When companies are struggling to stay afloat during the recession, savings have to be made. And it is staff who are often the first to be targeted. When employers cut back on staff and give them the salary entitlements which the labour laws require, the experience is bad enough. But at least redundancy payments give people a breathing space to find another job, and to make adjustments to the household budget. When firms resort to unprincipled practices to avoid paying employees their due, they add injury to anxiety, and that is a trend which seems to be on the increase. The examples cited in the Sunday Morning Post of people whose working life is being made miserable by a variety of unethical and underhand practices, probably represent the tip of an iceberg. The Labour Department has been confronted by 13,590 claims involving unreasonable dismissal, or changes in contracts in the first half of this year, making it fairly clear that a lot of unpleasant things are happening in many work places. In many of these cases, the victims will have little redress. People who have been pressured into signing declarations that they have made mistakes have scant protection from the law. Workers who are driven out of their jobs because the demands upon them are impossible, may have difficulty in proving their cases. As a free market, Hong Kong has always lacked legislation that gives real safeguards to employees. But the issue which is dividing the community at present is a question not of law but of fairness and decency. Every sector of the economy is undergoing a painful adjustment at present. Economists have been pointing out for years that the city was overvalued. At last, prices of property, services and consumer goods are being cut back, but so are jobs and pay scales. While unemployment is at a 15-year high, inflation is at its lowest for years. When the crisis is over, Hong Kong will be leaner, fitter and more competitive. Until then, firms faced with plummeting profits will have to resort to lay-offs, or ask staff to take pay cuts. But they can at least do it honourably, and with sensitivity. Any sensible employee would rather have less pay than no job. Bosses who bully employees out of jobs to save on redundancy payments are doing themselves a disservice. They may survive the downturn, but they will lose the loyalty of their remaining staff. When the economy picks up and workers are in demand, their workforce will look elsewhere for a job worth having.