Unions call for return to pre-Sars pay levels

Klaudia Lee

They criticise employers for preferring staff bonuses to increases in salaries

Labour unions yesterday urged employers to share the fruits of the economic rebound by raising salaries to pre-Sars levels.

They criticised employers' groups for advocating discretionary bonuses instead of pay rises to reward staff, saying that did not offer certainty.

The Federation of Trade Unions said hotels and retailers that had benefited from the implementation of the individual mainland travel scheme should increase employees' salaries by 10 per cent.

It also said Hong Kong's economy was expected to grow by over 6 per cent in the coming financial year, driving up inflation.

'When the economy was in the doldrums, employees suffered a cut in their salaries and benefits. They had to work long hours and their workload kept increasing, but their salaries continued to be reduced,' said federation vice-chairman Chan Yuen-han.


'Although the economy is much better now, their salaries have not returned to the pre-Sars level,' the unionist lawmaker said.

Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said it was time employers increased salaries that were slashed by 20 to 30 per cent during the Sars outbreak.

'Now, the economy has grown 12.1 per cent [year on year in the second quarter]. It's time employers share the fruit of growth with their employees,' Mr Lee said.

Both union federations have criticised the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong, which last month said across-the-board pay increases should be avoided and employers should instead offer performance-related bonuses.


A spokesman for the employers' federation yesterday reiterated that discretionary bonuses were a better system for rewarding outstanding staff, and offered companies more flexibility.

Evergloss Tours (EGL) travel agency has allocated $3 million for discretionary bonuses for its staff - a sign of how much some sectors of the economy have improved.


Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director of EGL Tours, said the bonus was offered after the company enjoyed a 50 per cent rise in profits, from April to September, compared to the same period over the past two years.

He attributed the improvement to the granting of visa-free entry to Japan for Hong Kong passport holders from April 1.

It is the second time the travel agency has granted discretionary bonuses to staff.


In April, it allocated $2 million in bonuses, and increased pay levels by 3 per cent for outstanding staff. 'When we assess [the staff's] performance, we may adjust their pay levels upwards by 4 to 5 per cent,' Mr Huen said.

Meanwhile, Mannings, Hong Kong's largest pharmacy chain, said it had not yet decided whether to increase pay levels, despite the rebound in retail sales.