White-collar workers and those in the service industry are bearing the brunt of the economic downturn, trade union figures show. Outstanding pay was the most common problem named in rising employee complaints, said the Federation of Trade Unions. It received 17,004 inquiries and complaints last year, an increase of 15 per cent on 1997. It settled 756 cases involving $577.94 million - about double the previous year's total of $289.71 million. The greatest rise in complaints came from the service sector and white-collar workers. There were 4,165 complaints from service industry workers, compared with 3,769 in 1997. Those that involved white-collar workers reached 4,116, an increase of 936 cases. The union has called on all workers to join forces to demand better protection for their rights. It also urged the Labour Department to step up enforcement of employment laws and to better publicise guidelines issued last year. 'The guidelines were of limited effect as many employers did not follow them and many employees are not aware of their rights,' said the union. Most of the complaints on retrenchment and pay cuts flooded in during the second half of last year but the common problem was outstanding wages. Cases settled by the union rose 114 per cent to 323. Many workers were owed salaries for as long as six months. Cases showed many businesses laid off staff and hired a new batch at reduced rates, said the union.