Uncertainty deters top overseas talent

Top News | Tereza Cai 6 Nov 2019

Talented people are unwilling to leave jobs overseas and come to Hong Kong to work at management levels because of protest-related uncertainty, an expert says.

And that is despite employers offering high salaries and benefits such as housing subsidies, adds Worldwide Consulting Group managing director Armstrong Lee Hon-cheung.

The first two months of protests, in June and July, did not have a significant impact on the recruitment market, Lee said, but the situation has deteriorated since.

That came at the same time as visitor numbers from the mainland fell significantly and retailing and catering businesses declined. Then the financial and wealth management sectors started to feel the effects.

And with fewer exhibition events, Lee said, business trips to Hong Kong declined.

Lee said there have not been large-scale pay cuts so far, but some large firms have suspended recruitment and postponed expansion plans.

Also, he said, operators in the retail, tourism and catering industries have asked staff to take no-pay leave.

And Lee expects the unemployment rate to surpass 3 percent in the first quarter of 2020 against the current 2.9 percent. It could even reach 3.3 percent in a worst-case scenario.

That includes a round of layoffs after the lunar new year at the end of January if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Commenting on the administration's support measures for enterprises, Lee said some "life-saving money" merely serves to keep some companies in business for a limited period.

He hopes that government backing can provide more comprehensive credit pledges for companies, reduce rates for retailers and allow small businesses to have greater bargaining power with landlords.

The Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management earlier released a survey showing salary increases for local employees during this year have averaged 3.6 percent.

But looking at 2020, Lee said some employees may not see any pay increases amid the dismal economic scene. Others may not enjoy salary hikes in excess of 3 percent.

In particular, Lee predicted, life insurance and wealth management businesses are in line for a crunch time.

Still, he added, salaries for high-level managers are unlikely to be affected greatly as they could be hard to replace.

tereza.cai@singtaonewscorp.com

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