WHEN he moved from a Chinese state-run enterprise to a German firm with an office in Beijing, Mr Huang was overwhelmed not by his new salary, but by the enormity of his new responsibilities. ''My first thoughts were not that my pay had risen, but that the difficulty of my work had increased,'' said Mr Huang (a pseudonym). Nevertheless, he never regretted the switch. ''From the point of view of management methods and productivity, foreign-invested firms are better than Chinese companies,'' he said. A report last week by the Beijing Youth News surprised readers by drawing attention to worker dissatisfaction at the Beijing outlet of one of the world's best-known enterprises: McDonald's. Workers at the fast-food outlet complained of low wages, hard work and lack of adequate benefits, according to the report. Despite complaints at McDonald's, however, the general picture of work conditions at foreign-invested enterprises in China compares favourably with those at Chinese-run firms. A number of Chinese workers said pressure at their foreign-invested company was much greater than at their previous work units. In some respects, such as housing, workers at Chinese-run units were often better off. Nevertheless, all those interviewed said their foreign managers offered them better pay, a better work environment, and better opportunities to develop their skills. Ms Qiu, for example, said her salary of 500 yuan (HK$673) a month at a Sino-Hongkong technology joint venture was modest compared to private businessmen's wages. ''But I'm young, the job is challenging, and I can learn a lot of advanced things without having to pay for tuition,'' she said. Some foreign companies offer benefits matching those of Chinese firms. In Ms Qiu's case, the firm will give her an apartment after five years of employment. Other foreign-invested firms are less generous in benefits, but give employees the opportunity to earn big salaries. Mr Zhao, a marketing agent at a Sino-Taiwanese decorating joint venture, gets a basic monthly wage of 300 yuan. But, with commission, heearns between 1,000 and 3,000 yuan. Mr Zhao said his present employment gave him ''the chance to do something I really want to do. In Chinese units, people's energies are not developed''. Foreign-invested enterprises are required to have unions, which answer to the All China Federation of Trade Unions. But, said Mr Li, a union representative at an American firm, the unions did not have a big role. ''There are opportunities to talk about work conditions but we don't have the courage. Workers are afraid of being fired,'' said Mr Li. With only 10 staff, Mr Zhao's firm does not have a union. Nevertheless, the Taiwanese general manager holds meetings with his staff to discuss changes in policy, products or strategy. ''There has to be a solution [to staff complaints] because the general manager wants to sell his produce,'' said Mr Zhao. ''At some point, he will yield because he doesn't know the market, but we do. If we're dissatisfied, we can market somebody else's goods.''