Staff at major utility companies should be kept on low pay to keep costs down for consumers, an economist said yesterday. Professor Ho Lok-sang, head of Lingnan College's economics department, said passengers were paying for wage increases at rail and bus companies through higher fares. Companies with monopolies could afford to offer higher pay rises than smaller private companies, which suffered more from inflation. 'Inflation makes the daily living of the poor and the unemployed more expensive. Small companies have to struggle and some might even close down,' he said. Professor Ho, director of the college's Centre for Public Policy Studies said his view was based on data collected from a study he conducted for the Government last year. He said companies offering lower pay rises would help development. 'I consider inflation in Hong Kong to be high. It would make us less competitive in the global market and cause unemployment.' Secretary of the China Motor Bus branch of the Motor Transport Workers General Union Shum Hoi-sang said he was outraged by the claim and called for Professor Ho's resignation. 'He does not understand our hardship at all. Our pay rise cannot catch up with inflation. Even those families on social security have more to spend than us,' he said. 'Even the highest-paid staff among us have to work 16 hours a day without much chance to see their children.' The director of the Centre for Economic Development at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Dr Francis Lui Ting-ming, said Professor Ho's view 'did not make sense'. 'The companies would not transfer wage expenditure on to end products. They would save on salary and at the same time make profits from the products,' Dr Lui said. He said large companies tended to pay higher wages because of the need to hire more professionals, while the unskilled had been disadvantaged by the supply of workers from the mainland. Both academics were speaking after a seminar on poverty held at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.