Thursday, 17 July 2014

Exiting China in Droves

With the CCTV tower in the foreground, hardly anything visible behind it
A few years ago China used to be a hot place for expatriates to be posted, with economic development going through the roof and lots of growth in various sectors.

But nowadays the fears of pollution levels have scared many expats who are starting to worry more about their health than their bank accounts or resumes.

The air pollution is getting so bad in China that multinational companies are now offering extra compensation for expatriates based in the middle kingdom. Seems they are leaving in droves and so companies are trying to retain staff with a financial incentive.

It is believed Japanese electronics company Panasonic started paying its expatriate staff "hazard pay" in April to compensate them for the hazardous air quality.

And now Coca-Cola is offering its expat staff an "environmental hardship allowance". The allowance, which was introduced "recently" is apparently a 15 percent increase of the employee's base salary.

A company spokeswoman confirmed the introduction of the additional pay, but would not comment on the amount.

"Our competitive mobility package includes an environmental allowance for postings to China," she said in an emailed statement.

Last year only three of 74 cities in China met the minimum government standards in air quality, and air pollution has become a key issue for foreign companies posting employees to cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Companies now offer better medical insurance benefits, more paid trips home and subsidies for air filters for the some half million foreigners working in China.

An Australian architectural firm called Hassell gives its staff face masks to travel to and from work. It also changes air filters every week during heavy pollution.

"In Australia, you might do that every year," said Peter Duncan, Hassell's managing director for Asia, who is based in Shanghai.

Headhunter Peter Arkell, managing director of Swann Global, says the Coca-Cola allowance indicates the company is having trouble retaining and attracting staff to China.

"I hear more and more stories about executives not extending their contracts because they don't think China is a good place to bring up a family," he said. "It [the environmental payment] is a way of addressing the air pollution issue, but it does look like a pretty generous payment to me."

But is it really worth taking the extra money and greatly increase your chances of developing some respiratory disease or cancer?

China used to be a great place for young executives to cut their teeth in new territory, but with many of them having babies and toddlers, they worry about their exposure to the polluted air that could lead to asthma and possibly developmental problems.

Will the new financial incentive stem the exodus? We shall see...

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