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Unemployment Woes Hit Hong Kong

January 23, 1998

HONG KONG (AP) _ Alex Poon closed his eyes as he recalled his plunge from well-paid banker to unemployed.

``This is terrible. I don’t know how much more of this I can take,″ said the 42-year-old as he scoured newspapers’ job pages.

After nine years as a bank executive, Poon was made redundant three weeks ago and went from making the equivalent of $10,335 a month ``to nothing.″

``My wife and I were looking to move, but everything is on hold right now,″ he said. ``Everything I did just disappeared.″

Asia’s economic turmoil is biting in Hong Kong, causing once solid companies and jobs to collapse and shaking the territory’s confidence in its financial well-being.

It’s not just blue-collar workers who are suffering. Those hurt by job losses range from restaurant workers to well-heeled managers and finance experts whose companies collapsed or cut costs.

Just this month, Hong Kong’s biggest finance house, Peregrine Investment Holdings Ltd, folded, putting about 300 people in Hong Kong out of work. And Cathay Pacific, the territory’s flagship airline, fired 460 Hong Kong workers _ 55 percent of them from management.

Hotels _ one of the worst-hit industries _ have shed almost 1,000 jobs in the past year.

The government acknowledges that some people are hurting, but insists that Hong Kong’s economic fundamentals remain strong.

After rising to 2.5 percent, Hong Kong’s unemployment rate remains low in comparison with other parts of Asia. But the number of people out of work is expected to rise. The Chinese New Year, which starts Wednesday, is traditionally a time for company bosses to decide whether to cut costs and fire workers.

Unemployment agencies and headhunters, however, are getting busier.

``We are seeing more and more resumes,″ said Trevor Sunderland of Ernst and Young Human Resources Consulting. The number of resumes sent by job-seekers has jumped about 20 percent in the past two months, he said.

But ``many companies are trimming high-level employees and it is difficult to find positions for these people,″ added Francilia Lung of Lindy Williams Ltd., another employment agency,

``It seems like everyone is looking for a job,″ said 26-year-old Teresa So as she completed another form in an employment agency.

So’s 12,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,550) a month job as a managerial assistant at a trading firm was cut two weeks ago.

Now, she says she’d settle for a secretarial post paying 8,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,030) a month.

``It’s not quite what I was looking for, but I guess it’s something,″ said So. ``This will hold me over until I find something better.″

Meanwhile, Poon continues his search through the classified ads and tries to stay upbeat.

``I’m sure I’ll find another good job,″ he said. ``Once I do, I’m staying for good.″

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