Wages increased by 2.2 per cent last September from the previous year, but fell by 0.1 per cent when adjusted for consumer price inflation. The findings from the Census and Statistics Bureau's twice-yearly study surprised unionists who said they had expected the fall to be sharper as firms cut pay during the recession. But economists said they were not surprised as most businesses had not been cutting pay, despite some high-profile cases. Chi Lo, senior international economist for the HSBC, said wages were not dropping fast enough to allow Hong Kong to compete with its neighbours. He warned that if the trend continued, more layoffs and bankruptcies would occur. He said pay cuts were necessary to keep Hong Kong competitive because the regional financial turmoil had led to wage cuts in neighbouring countries. Unionists expect the next study, to be completed in March, to show a bigger fall in wages as many companies have frozen pay for this year. The September study showed restaurant and hotel workers fared worst. They received the lowest pay rise - 0.4 per cent - which translated into a wage cut of 1.9 per cent when inflation was considered. Their sector, which also includes employees in the wholesale, retail and import/export trades, saw real wages, which take inflation into account, fall by one per cent. Manufacturing workers saw a 0.8 per cent wage increase, equalling a pay cut of 1.5 per cent in real terms. But the transport services sector saw gross wages increase by 4.3 per cent and real wages by 1.9 per cent. The finance insurance, real estate (except estate agencies) and business services sector saw gross wages increase by 4.3 per cent and real wages by 1.9 per cent. In the personal services sector, gross wages increased by 3.7 per cent and real wages by 1.4 per cent.