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Firms oppose 'meddling' race bill

It's not racist to pay the going rate for talent, chambers say

The international business community has warned the government against what it considers to be the anti-racism bill's unnecessary interference in corporate hiring practices.

In a meeting with Home Affairs officials yesterday, representatives of a number of chambers of commerce urged officials to speed up the bill's enactment but called for the scrapping of an exception they believed could affect packages they offer to attract staff from overseas.

The proposed exception allows companies to have different pay scales for locals and expatriates, but only if the expatriates have expertise not readily available locally and if they are not permanent Hong Kong residents.

Expat packages vary but often include perks such as allowances for home travel, children's education, tax assistance and housing.

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chief economist David O'Rear said it was 'kind of strange' for the anti-racism law to stipulate terms and conditions for the employment of expatriates.

'Nobody has offered anyone extra benefits because of race,' he said. 'Companies offer benefits to employees because that's what it takes to get them hired. Racial discrimination legislation is far too important to be hung up on micro-managing corporate human resources.'

Mr O'Rear said the exception would not be useful, particularly if it required those on expat packages to give up their overseas terms of employment if they wished to become permanent Hong Kong residents. He said companies could easily circumvent the requirement by tinkering with terms of employment and that the law would be difficult to enforce, which would make it 'bad law'.

Clifford Taylor, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce's human resources committee, said AmCham 'remained adamantly in favour of the anti-racism legislation' but said the law should also uphold 'the free market for which Hong Kong has been so attractive to business over many years'.

'While the expat package exemption is well conceived, the biggest concern is that the current wording is very confusing and may in fact even embarrass Hong Kong,' he said.

Mr Taylor said the exemption would 'create an extra layer of red tape for businesses when hiring', was unnecessary and should be removed.

'Companies have many different approaches to defining and rewarding 'expats' around the world and the exemption process will not help Hong Kong's attractiveness to foreign businesses,' he said.

A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Bureau said the bill was 'almost at the end of the drafting stage' but wanted to resolve the concerns of the 'international business committee', which comprises all the chambers of commerce in Hong Kong.