Hong Kong workers can look forward to average wage growth of just 2.7 per cent next year, the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region, according to forecasts issued yesterday by human resources consultants Hewitt Associates. But while the gains may be fairly small, the firm says employers are feeling upward pressure on pay rates and as a result only about 6 per cent of companies are planning to maintain wage freezes in the coming year. That figure contrasted with 31 per cent at the start of this year, 39 per cent last year and 45 per cent in 2002. Across the border it is a different story, with the fight for talent driving up not only labour prices but employee turnover and the extra incentives workers are demanding from employers. Hewitt's practice leader for greater China, Stella Hou Bei-li, said the 1,700 mainland companies surveyed expected to be increasing salaries by an average of 7.68 per cent. Only the Philippines and India would experience greater wage growth. 'Loyalty is not something people are after in China,' Ms Hou said. 'People are after bigger titles, more career opportunities and more dollars because of the age profile we have. 'We can't blame them because they get headhunter calls every month, if not every week, so they have every reason to believe that their current company is not paying them well enough. 'They want to live the lifestyle that they see depicted in Hollywood films, and that takes cash.' She said the education system was struggling to produce suitable graduates, as the huge demand for talent had meant class sizes were rising without a commensurate increase in quality. This was exacerbating the problem, particularly in middle management, and forcing a rethink of how companies retained talent. 'Our data shows that more than 80 per cent of companies across the spectrum of industries have one or more short-term incentive schemes,' she said, noting that longer-term incentives such as share-ownership and home-ownership schemes were also on the rise. But turnover rate would remain high no matter what, she said.