Economic Recovery Has Yet To Touch Media Workers

Mak Yin-ting - Chief Editor, The Journalist

Inflation is back in Hong Kong, that's for sure. According to the Budget delivered in February, the inflation rate for 2010 will be between 1.5% and 2.3% for the fiscal year 2010/11. So it is clear that inflation will last until next April, at the very least. Regrettably, a survey conducted by The Journalist shows that the majority of media workers will suffer from a decrease in actual income.

The Journalist asked 22 news outlets about salary adjustments made last March. Among them, ten have made or will have salary increment, eight will freeze salary levels while three have yet to announce any adjustments. The majority of those getting salary hikes will have less than 3 percent rise. A jump of 20% at Hong Kong Broadband merely narrows the gap for those whose salaries have been much lower than the market rate. With a significant number of journalistic workers having no salary increment, the majority of our colleagues will suffer from negative growth in salaries after deducting the inflation rate.

Bonus payments, however, are a bit better. According to our survey, ten news organizations have continued to give out bonus equivalent to one to four months salary to staff. Among them, individual staff in AM730 received the highest percentage of bonus while most in the industry got approximately one month's bonus. But ten organizations decided not to hand out any bonus. Most regrettably is the cancellation of a long tradition to give out bonus by the South China Morning Post. We hope very much that it is only a temporary measure which will be resumed soon.

The number of holidays and leave remains more or less the same. Hong Kong Broadband is one of the few that have improved. Its News Controller, Earnest Li, told The Journalist that reporters who have to sit for examinations may have two extra days off and special leave will be granted to reporters whose wife is giving birth. It is certainly good news to those colleagues who want to improve themselves and the introduction of the pregnancy-care holiday is an innovative idea in the news industry.

All in all, the salary and working benefits in the news industry is very unsatisfactory. Regrettably, other employees are not better off than news workers. The Hong Kong Institute of Human Resources Management announced last November that among those business sectors that provided data, the average budgeted pay-adjustment for 2010 ranged between 0.1% and 4.1%. Overall, the pay increase projection is around 2%. Lai Kam-tong, Co-chairman of the Remuneration Committee of the HKIHRM, remarked that companies had considered it prudent to take a more conservative approach towards pay adjustments for 2010, citing the business uncertainty and against a backdrop of worldwide economic stagnation as the reasons.

However, past experience has shown that employees are always the first casualties in any so-called economic uncertainty. And employers tend to over-cut the costs, in terms of salary and working benefits and finally getting more than expected profits. The insurance industry's situation in 2003, when SARS exposed, and 09, when aftermath of financial turmoil emerged, was a vivid example which accumulated discontent among employees.

Such over protective measures of employer will do no good to harmonious working relations and enhancement of competition. In recent years, there have been a brain drain to public relations industry which provide better employment terms. And management in different news outlets knows the situation far better than me. It is time for us to act before too late.