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HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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Hong Kong's salary gap rises to 7.5 times

For every US$100 that top management in the US earned in base salary, those in Hong Kong made US$128.

But for all the talk that bosses in Hong Kong are paid far more than workers, a new survey by benefits consultants Willis Towers Watson shows that local bosses are paid relatively less than their regional counterparts when measured against entry-level salaries. Over 2016, Hong Kong’s salary gap also rose from 6.2 to 7.5 times, which in itself is quite significant.

However, it pales in comparison to other markets such as Indonesia, which has the the biggest base salary gap in 2016 of 15.8 times with top management earning US$190,000 a year compared to professional-level staff who earn about US$12,000. The differential there widened from 12 times in 2015 and 11.8 times in 2014.

Following close behind Indonesia is Thailand. Top management in Thailand earn about US$202,000 a year, 14.9 times that of professional-level staff (US$13,600), a gap markedly wider than 8.7 times in 2015 – the biggest year-on-year jump in salary gap seen in Asia last year. The gap in Vietnam also stood at 14.9 times in 2016.

Elsewhere in the region, the salary divide in China rose from 9.7 times in 2015 to 10 times in 2016. The change in Singapore was minimal, rising from 6.3 to 6.5 times. Although China saw the gap widen between 2015 and 2016, base salaries for top management and professional-level staff actually grew at similar speeds, by 18% and 16%, respectively.

Despite calls from some quarters to reign in executive pay, Asia is in fact leading the way in pay discrepancies between top management and line executives. Top executive base salaries in Asia overtake those in the US, but junior levels lag far behind. In Hong Kong and Singapore, total guaranteed cash salaries (base salaries plus total fixed allowances) last year were more than 25% higher than the average US$233,000 earned in the US.

In 2016, for every US$100 that top management in the US earned in base salary, their peers in Singapore and Hong Kong made US$132 and US$128, respectively. On the same basis, top management in China (US$98), Thailand (US$87), Indonesia (US$82), and South Korea (US$82) also earned similar total guaranteed cash to their counterparts in the US. Many top executives in the US, however, receive various incentives.

Understandably, whilst top executives in many Asian markets earned salaries close to or above those in the US, at lower levels in the corporate hierarchy was a different story. Amongst the above markets, for every US$100 that professional-level staff earned in the US, their peers in China (US$35), Thailand (US$21), and Indonesia (US$18) made just a fraction. Noteworthy too is in India, where the figure was just US$15. Meanwhile, the difference was less pronounced in Japan (US$70) and South Korea (US$63), but still very discernible.

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