'At the moment, there is concern within the workforce, and within government, that the fruits of the economic recovery are not filtering down to the unskilled workers.' Donald Tsang Yam-kuen Speech to joint chambers of commerce IT IS NOT always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff in all the statistics that the government publishes on wages and salaries, but the first chart plots what are probably the most reliable figures and they say that our Chief Executive has a point. The red line on top shows an index of the median monthly earnings of professionals based on a value of 100 for December 1997. The blue line at the bottom shows the equivalent for workers in elementary occupations. The green line in the middle is the benchmark, an index of total economic output per employed person. The chart says that for every $100, bonuses included, that professionals made for any given amount of work in 1997, they made $103.45 in the average of the 12 months to June this year. Over that period, the equivalent pay in elementary occupations dropped from $100 to $76.25. The wealthier workers took a bigger share of Hong Kong's economic output for themselves, the poorer workers a significantly smaller one. And why has it happened? The Chief Executive himself supplied a very good answer in his speech on Monday: 'We must also factor in ongoing immigration from the mainland ... many of them are unskilled workers and their arrival continually replenishes the pool of low-skilled workers looking for jobs. 'But if there is a constant stream of workers at the lower tier, the rules of supply and demand dictate that wages in this sector remain stagnant, or may even fall, while wages of the highly skilled ones in the top tier continue to rise.' Once again, it is not easy to crystallise definite evidence on labour migrants from the available figures, but the second chart represents an attempt to do so and it says Mr Tsang has a worthwhile point here too. The chart again uses indices based on a value of 100 for December 1997. This time, the red line on top represents the growth of the labour force. It says that for every 100 workers who were employed or looking for jobs in 1997, we now have 110.3 persons in the labour force. The green line in the middle shows the overall growth of our population, up 6.5 per cent over the period, well below the growth in the labour force. The blue line at the bottom takes a different tack. It says that if the number of people coming to Hong Kong were the same as the number of people leaving and immigration were thus not a factor, then population growth would be determined only by the number of births over the number of deaths during the period. This would have given us an increase of only 1.7 per cent since 1997. The conclusion should be obvious enough. Our real population growth has been much higher than this because of immigration. These immigrants have largely been people of working age, which is why the growth of the labour force has been much greater. And now I part company with Mr Tsang on his prescription for remedying the wage disparity that has resulted from this high growth rate in immigrant labour. His message to the joint chambers of commerce was as follows: 'The government has taken the lead by ensuring that all of its service contractors pay the average market-level wages for non-skilled workers. In the spirit of corporate responsibility, I make a personal appeal today to the private sector to do the same.' Donald, it is all very well for government to pay whatever wages it chooses. It can just dip into the taxpayers' pockets for more money whenever it chooses. Private companies, however, do not have this luxury. Their pay levels are established by market forces. If they pay less than their competitors pay, they will not find workers. If they pay more, they may suffer financial strains. They are captive to market pay levels for each job they have on offer. They can do nothing about it. But you can do something about it. If you want to remedy pay disparity, don't you think it is about time to reconsider your administration's immigration policies?