THE brain drain, not spoken about too much these days, will take on a massive surge towards Australia if systems analysts and programmers take recent announcements seriously. With base salary levels exceeding A$1.3 million (about HK$6.8 million) per annum being proffered, queues will probably start to form down at the Australian Consulate in Wan Chai this morning. But wait! A few days ago in the conservative Melbourne newspaper, The Age , IT industry commentator Lisa Mitchell outlined the Australian Services Union's (ASU) extraordinary endeavour to establish a remuneration award for all IT workers in the country. The unbelievable base salary levels exceeding A$100,000 per month are only those being mooted by the ASU to capture the attention of the employers and the Industrial Relations Commission. In real terms, the average salary levels of analysts Down Under vary between $185,000 and $350,000 per annum dependent on experience. Before anyone goes rushing off to the Aussie Consulate, immigration papers in hand, these real levels are marginally lower on average than those in Hongkong. An award, in Australian terms, is an enforcible salary scale by which employers are legally bound. It equates to the minimum salary levels for various vocations which have been established by the Labour Tribunal and is parallel to the formal salary scales tables applied within the Hongkong Government. Sadly, trade unions Down Under have gone awry and seem hell bent on destroying all incentive to provide a reasonable day's work for a reasonable day's pay. Combine this with the classic Australian attitude that employment is simply a means to greater leisure, and it should not be a surprise that the country is suffering a recession which some claim is worse than the great depression earlier in the century. Unemployment is running at an average of more than 12 per cent across the country. Astonishingly, it is in this economical climate that the empirical ASU is keen to expand its horizons, by invading the IT industry, despite the fact that it is doing this of its own volition and not at the behest of either the IT employers, or the IT employees. The union states that it now has around 2,000 IT workers among its members, but is eager to penetrate much deeper into the estimated 45,000-strong IT technical workforce. Considering the fact that most IT practitioners regard their occupation as a profession, the union concept is not generally acceptable. Michael Stringer, a director of Melbourne software developers Data Brokers, said: ''There probably are a few technical people who have been retrenched recently, due to the recession, and these people may be feeling hard done by. ''Perhaps these people would welcome support from an IT trade union, but they are the exception, rather than the rule.'' I am informed that the tactics of the ASU are not uncommon. On the international stage, Australia is again being portrayed as a joke. Apparently, to gain an award hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission, any union must prove that grounds for a dispute exist. To achieve this, the ASU has proposed an outrageous base salary level award which is so far beyond reason that employers in the IT industry are forced to be drawn into debate. Once debate is achieved, then grounds for a hearing are established. Quite bizarre, isn't it? In accordance with the required procedures, the ASU issued a log of claims to 22 IT industry employers in March this year. According to Mr Mitchell, the list included Microsoft, NCR, Unisys, Logica and Andersen Consulting. Fortunately, there is some good sense still prevailing in that the award is not automatically established until the Industrial Relations Commission findings prove it necessary and viable. However, the inordinate focus on the IT industry can only serve to damage the harmony which presently is enjoyed between IT industry employers and employees alike. I suppose we gain comfort in the knowledge that we are very unlikely to witness such industrial relations absurdities in Hongkong, even after 1997. Indications are clear that merit by performance will remain the calibration for compensation in the local IT world.