Tung Chee-hwa declared his opposition to staff pay cuts yesterday as unions pleaded with Hongkong Telecom to postpone its across-the-board 10 per cent wage reduction. A spokesman for Mr Tung said 'he does not encourage pay cuts' after the Chief Executive appealed to employers to be caring in times of economic hardship. Mr Tung, speaking after meeting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, said: 'It is important to have unity in the community, for all sectors to join hands to overcome the difficulties we are facing. 'Employers must be caring to their employees in this adjustment process in order to bring the best out of their employees.' His comments came as unions were appealing to Hongkong Telecom to freeze the pay cut for 13,800 staff, which comes into effect on November 1, for one year. Representatives from the Hong Kong Telecom Employees Unions held an urgent meeting with the company's chief executive, Linus Cheung Wing-lam. However, the two-hour session failed to produce a breakthrough. Employees later said they had not ruled out taking industrial action. An eight-member group led by ex-legislator Tsang Kin-shing staged an overnight protest outside Telecom House in Wan Chai against the cuts. The group will hand in a petition to the company. In a minor concession to the union, the company yesterday said it would consider exempting workers in extreme financial difficulties from the pay cut. A lower cut would also be considered for low-income workers, the company told union officials. Thirty to 40 per cent of the company's workers earn between $6,000 and $11,000. However, union leaders argued the concessions were aimed at diluting opposition to the pay cuts in order to quell discontent. The union proposed that the pay cut be suspended for a year, but said it had received a negative response. Mr Cheung promised yesterday to meet workers in the coming week. He pledged there would be no layoffs in the next 12 months. Cheng Chun-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Telecom Employers Union, said: 'As a unionist, I do not agree to the one-sided pay cut no matter what other side conditions the employers suggest. It is a breach of contract.' A 49-year-old customer field service worker, who has worked for Hongkong Telecom for 32 years, urged the company to freeze cuts for one year. Legislator Chan Yuen-han said she had sought help from the Commissioner for Labour. The 1,000-strong Cable & Wireless Staff Association is also seeking legal advice on whether to sue the company for changing the salary plan without negotiating with employers. Security at the company's tower in Quarry Bay was stepped up after rumours that workers would march on the office. A hotline - 2922 7000 - has been set up by the Labour Department for Telecom staff.