HK Bank to hire 350 tellers from mainland

HONGKONG and Shanghai Bank is expected to receive permission shortly from the Labour Department to employ 350 workers from China as tellers, according to a bank spokesman.

The bank has already begun recruiting cream-of-the-crop university graduates in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in anticipation of a go-ahead from the Government.

Industries such as hotels, construction and certain segments of manufacturing have previously used foreign labour, but this will be the first time the financial sector has been permitted to import clerical workers.

Hongkong Bank's initiative, taken in an effort to staunch the constant outflow of front-line staff seeking higher wages and more desirable work, is likely - Government permitting - to become a trend, despite costing more than employing local people.

The territory's tight labour market, the unglamorous image of the job and an industry-wide median annual income of $88,000 have conspired to produce bank teller turnover rates as high as 30 per cent a year.

It is believed that Standard Chartered Bank has also applied to hire workers from China under the Government's labour importation scheme, which has this year granted 403 spots to foreign workers for the sector.

According to the spokesman, the applicants must have university degrees, several years' experience in banking and fluency in English and Cantonese, and the bank will have complete discretion over whom it hires.

Hongkong's restrictive labour importation policy was relaxed last year to raise the number of foreign workers allowed in the territory at any given time from 12,000 to 25,000.

Domestic helpers are covered by a separate scheme, as are workers brought in to build the new airport.

Pre-empting local trade unions critical of the labour importation scheme on the basis that it will depress wages and cost locals jobs, the bank will be required by the Government to pay the industry median salary for tellers of $88,000 a year - or $6,700a month on Hongkong's traditional 13-month salary - for each employee.

In addition, the bank spokesman said, the recruits would be on two-year contracts and would be expected to return to China on completion of their stint in the territory.

As such they would not have the same career development opportunities as a local employee.

While the recruits can be relied upon not to job-hop, they will not come cheap.

The mainland workers will actually earn far less money than their local counterparts, but they will ultimately cost the bank more.

On top of expenses associated with recruiting, training and bringing the workers into the territory, the bank will be required to provide housing.

A hefty chunk of the workers' pay - ''up to 90 per cent'' - will go to the relevant employment organisations of the Chinese Government, and a small amount will be taken by the bank to defray housing costs, according to the spokesman.