THE MTR is to scrap benefits for expatriate staff and give preference to local candidates when recruiting. The policy switch by the government-funded corporation follows pressure from legislators and may set a precedent for the Provisional Airport Authority (PAA). MTRC (Mass Transit Railway Corporation) personnel director Patrick Maule said yesterday that the new policy would ensure priority was given to local candidates. ''We have taken lot of steps to ensure preferences or first chances are given to recruitment in Hong Kong,'' he said. A pay equalisation scheme would scrap all the benefits enjoyed solely by the expatriate staff. ''If we still find it appropriate to go abroad, then we'll from now on be recruiting on equalised terms, that is, local terms,'' he said. Pressure has been mounting from legislators to force the Government's fully-funded companies, including the MTRC and the PAA, to introduce localisation. Councillors yesterday welcomed the MTRC move and said they hoped it would trigger similar steps by other government-funded corporations, especially the PAA. Without divulging details, Mr Maule said the most significant change would be in the housing allowance. Overseas officers used to enjoy larger allowances out of recognition that people from the West used to live in larger properties. ''They no longer get a higher housing allowance,'' he said. The MTRC has been dominated by expatriate officers in the senior ranks. Only one of the seven directors immediately below chairman Hamish Mathers, property director Thomas Ho Hang-kwong, is a local Chinese. But Mr Maule said the new scheme was not intended to trigger an exodus of expatriates. ''We are proud to have a stable management,'' he said. He denied the move was triggered by pressure from legislators. ''We have been examining the localisation policy for many months now. It's driven by its own logic of economic common sense,'' he said. Mr Maule said local salaries were already very competitive compared with other countries. ''The local package is still financially attractive to overseas candidates because of the buoyant economy of Hong Kong,'' he said. The management briefed its staff on the new policy last week. In contrast to the Government's localisation policy, the company would not give priority to local staff in internal promotion exercises. ''Once they enter the company, promotion will be determined purely on merit,'' he said. Mr Maule said those recruited under the previous overseas package would not be affected. About 30 expatriate staff hold senior posts in the daily operations section of MTRC, compared with a total of 5,400 local staff. The corporation's airport rail project section has recruited up to 92 expatriate officers, compared with a total of 371 local staff. Legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said he hoped the policy switch would encourage other government-funded corporations to follow suit. , especially the PAA which had long been criticised as discriminating against locals.