STATE-OWNED enterprises in China are finding that a few benefits tacked on to low wages no longer attract staff the way they used to. Key staff are now opting for higher basic pay, particularly when working for foreign ventures. As more foreign companies move to China to take advantage of its large labour force, competition for good workers is so keen that a monthly salary paid to a factory worker can reach 3,000 yuan (about HK$2,750). This is six times higher than that offered by state-owned enterprises. Many workers used to be happy staying with state enterprises because of the wide-ranging benefits that were available. Tempted by the attractive opportunity to earn hard cash, workers are now willing to give up these benefits - free meals, transportation, clothing, fruit, education for offspring - which could be worth up to 800 yuan a month. With a more open economy, these benefits look less attractive as materialism takes root in people's daily lives and the more well-paid have greater consumer choice. Edward Cheung, a lawyer active in setting up Sino-foreign ventures in the Pearl River delta, said: 'Many people would rather have more cash in hand and spend it the way they want to.' Chinese regulations have fixed average wages by a joint-venture company at 20 per cent higher than those of state-owned enterprises. Managerial staff receive double. Unlike those in state enterprises, many workers in joint-venture companies are hired on a contractual basis for a fixed period of six months to 10 years. Since the contracts tie wages and bonuses to individual performance, many workers, especially younger staff, prefer 'work harder, earn more' employment to a life-long job. 'People who work faster and longer hours could earn as much as 3,000 yuan, and that is already three times higher than their normal pay,' Mr Cheung said. Finding enough workers is not without problems for foreign investors, because they mostly prefer young single women. A fashion manufacturer who operates plants in China said factories were competing among themselves for staff, increasing basic salary by 20 per cent last year. Hander Knitting Factory spokesman Eddie Lam said: 'Now a worker's basic wage is slightly above 1,000 yuan, with no more benefits apart from free accommodation and a meal at lunch time.'