Hongkongers can expect their biggest pay rise in a decade next year, despite guidelines advising companies to hand out increases below the rate of inflation.
The Hong Kong Institute of Human Resources Management's poll of 85 companies last month found employees will receive an average 4.6 per cent more in their pay packets in 2013.
The poll found 42 firms, with 48,967 staff, will offer a rise. The other companies refused to comment.
The Employers' Federation of Hong Kong earlier issued guidelines to its members, suggesting either they give no pay rise or a maximum increase of 3.5 per cent - lower than the inflation rate of 3.8 per cent in September.
The poll also exposed large discrepancies in pay rises in different industries.
Those in the retail sector will see the biggest increase, 5.8 per cent, followed by a 5.2 per cent rise in the property development and management sector.
Lawrence Hung, who sits on the institute's executive council, attributed pay rises in the retail sector to the influx of tourists.
The outlook was not so rosy for the banking sector, with a rise of only 4 per cent expected.
While the average 4.6 per cent pay rise falls short of the 5 per cent predicted by the institute for this year, it tops the 4.5 per cent that Hongkongers actually received, according to another survey of about 100 companies employing 128,810 staff between January and October.
Hung said while the average rise looked encouraging compared to previous years, businesses were still cautious because of the European debt crisis and the third round of quantitative easing in the US.
The introduction of the minimum wage and the possibility of statutory paternity leave for men had also made companies wary.
"We need to look at the whole business cycle. Sars struck Hong Kong in 2003 and that's why the forecast pay rises have been low in the years since then.
"We shouldn't look at this trend and jump to the conclusion that bosses are confident about business prospects," Hung said.
Labour sector lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung said the Employers' Federation guildeline for pay rises was unreasonable.
Pay rises below the rate of inflation would not make the lives of employees any easier, Kwok said.
"Why can't the bosses share the profit they made in the past year with their workers?" he said.
Cheng Ching-fat, president of the Confederation of Trade Unions, also questioned why the federation issued the guidelines.
"What's the point of doing so?" Cheng said.
The federation did not respond to inquiries about the guidelines.