SURELY a big profitable hotel like the Excelsior wouldn't make its low-paid staff fork out for a government levy which it ought to pay itself, would it? And it certainly wouldn't take a year's worth of this levy out of the workers' Christmas bonus, would it? That's why we're very confused about this whole matter regarding the Excelsior and the $400-a-month training levy which employers of imported labour from the Philippines are required to pay to our Employees Retraining Board. This $400 is quite a lot of cash in relation to the $5,000 to $10,000 a month most imported labourers get. That's why the Government made it clear when the scheme was started in 1992 that the money was not to be taken from the pay packets of employees. The Excelsior employs 24 people from the Philippines under the labour importation scheme, according to boss Liam Lambert, and he was very firm that 'they don't have to pay it; it's the hotel that pays'. This is rather confusing for anyone who has seen Excelsior's paperwork showing that these employees last month had their salary reduced by $400 using a contract postdated back to January 1 - and which in some cases amounts to losing seven per cent of their salary. As for last year, we've heard that a sum that just happens to coincide with one year's levy was removed in one lump from the end-of-year bonus. 'Some of them may think that they pay,' conceded Liam, who remained adamant that they didn't. It's easy to understand how the employees could think such a thing. Having been given a piece of paper with a salary figure $400 less than the previous one, and knowing that the levy amounts to $400, it would be a remarkably easy mistake to make. On that note THOSE charity envelopes passed out on Cathay Pacific flights have yielded more than $5 million for UNICEF. They have also yielded a little social insight. Cathay announced the donation last week, along with a load of statistics like the total weight of coins and banknotes being 68 tonnes. It also provided a little table stating which currency people were most keen to get rid of: Hong Kong dollars. In fact, almost half the cash was collected from people happy to toss away their Honkies, and they got four times as much of our cash as Taiwan's. Hardly a vote of confidence in our monetary system. Matter of taste A MEMBER of staff at Credit Lyonnais has nominated CL itself for the 'Best 18-month market forecast using a tasteless picture' award. Given the number of dismal market forecasts we've pointed out over the past few weeks, we're happy to agree with them that their May 1993 long-range forecast, which had a picture of an investor being sick in full colour with the label '4th Quarter 1994', was bang on the mark. It showed a comic-strip roller-coaster ride, with an investor sipping champagne on a pleasure ride in the last part of 1993. Then the roller-coaster got too wild, culminating in the investor reaching for a sick bag in the third quarter of 1994 and emptying his stomach at the end of the year. 'I assure you that the diced carrots and chips come out in vivid oranges and yellows in the original water-colour, which hangs in our office.' Fellow punters will be pleased to know that next year the pictures show them clearing the lunch from their suit and start looking rather less green. We're not going to assess CL's New Year piece of fun, their fung shui market forecast, until the Year of the Dog nears its close but as a taster we'll point out that followers would have done badly at the beginning of the year but beaten 90 per cent of the market afterwards. Uniform mix IT'S not every day that a former commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police turns up at an accountants do, so we were very interested to bump into a chap called Norman Inkster last week. Sadly, he didn't have his Mountie hat on - just a suit like everyone else at KPMG Peat Marwick. One of his pet topics is the difficulties of setting priorities, and he gave an example from police exams. The constable is given hypothetical situation in which after turning up at a gas explosion with casualties the constable notices a drunk driver whose passenger is the wife of a senior officer currently out of town. Also, a nearby woman starts giving birth. Also, someone is drowning in a canal on the other side of the street and their spouse is waiting to be picked up at the police station. Also, there's a disciplinary hearing brought against them the next morning. Question: 'In a few words, describe what you would do.' One would-be constable wrote: 'I would remove my uniform and mingle with the crowd.' Cold comfort A QUICK name change has been ordered for what everyone was going to call Americas Free Trade Area, or AFTA, the trade bloc that would reach from Alaska to Argentine. It's now going to be Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. National Economic Council adviser Bo Cutter pointed that AFTA sounds a bit like NAFTA, the other trade bloc that caused such a row in the US. He added: 'Besides that, in some parts of South America, afta means a cold sore.'