HSBC bosses have scrapped the company's two-tier retirement policy in a move unionists have branded a cost-cutting exercise. And while the bank's management agrees that the move - under which all staff will have to retire the month they reach retirement age - will save money, it insists the bank is only coming into line with its rivals. Previously, HSBC's 8,400 general-grade staff were given the option of choosing to stay on in the job for as long as 12 months after reaching the retirement age of 60. The same option did not apply to executive-grade staff who had to leave immediately they reached retirement age, said company spokeswoman Virginia Lo Chan Sau-king. Under the modified scheme, both groups of staff would be treated the same, said Mrs Lo. But the general secretary of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, criticised the new policy. He said it was an attempt to get more staff to leave. 'By saving the salaries they otherwise had to pay under the former system, they could either recruit new younger staff or simply stop employing at all. 'Hongkong Bank, as one of the leading employers in Hong Kong, is giving a very bad example for other employers to follow.' HSBC's Hong Kong operation employs 13,500 people, about 80 per cent of whom are on general-grade terms. Defending the move, Mrs Lo said it only involved 'a change of practice' and did not violate the terms of employment contracts. She said the change aimed to strike a greater level of fairness between the two grades of staff. Surveys conducted by the bank into its competitors' practices showed that HSBC was the only institution that offered a two-tier retirement arrangement.