Ernst & Young China staff to take low-pay leave

HONG KONG, April 16 Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:31am BST

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HONG KONG, April 16 (Reuters) - Ernst & Young [ERNY.UL], one of the world's four biggest auditing firms, has issued a notice to its China employees to encourage them to take low-pay leave to save operating costs amid the economic downturn.

The firm has launched a human resources initiative to encourage its staff in China to take 40 days of low-pay leave between July 2009 and June 2010, according to an emailed statement from Ernst & Young in response to Reuters inquiry.

Those who agree to participate in the programme can get 20 percent of their usual salary while retaining all of the benefits of a full-time employee, the firm said in the statement.

The 40-day low-pay leave plan will apply to Ernst & Young employees in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China where the firm has 8,500 employees in total.

"These programmes are being implemented with the objectives of reducing costs for the organisation during the economic downturn while keeping its people together in order to meet the demands of clients when the economy rebounds," the statement said.

The firm also encouraged staff who were ready to take professional exams to take 20 days off before they entered the exams.

The worsening global financial crisis has cost tens of thousands of banking jobs.

Swiss bank UBS (UBS.N) UBSN.VX announced an 8,700-person layoff plan worldwide on Wednesday, while Japan's largest brokerage, Nomura Holdings Inc (8604.T), cut another 50 investment banking jobs in Asia on the same day.

While banks suffer directly from the financial crisis, consultancy, auditing and law firms are also being hit by the crisis as they normally work closely with investment banks to support them in closing deals.

Many law firms have also encouraged staff to take unpaid leave or to take leave on reduced pay terms.

In January, Ernst & Young said it had asked its China staff to take one month unpaid leave on a voluntary basis to help reduce operational costs.

More than 90 percent of its China staff joined the one-month unpaid leave plan, said a Hong Kong-based Ernrst & Young spokeswoman in an emailed statement in response to a Reuters inquiry.

Ernst & Young's major rivals include PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC.UL], Deloitte & Touche [DLTE.UL] and KPMG [KPMG.UL].

The four auditing firms used to be big hirers of fresh graduates in China, in particular for basic auditing jobs to help clients with stock listings or to acquire assets. Some of them had suspended hiring this year, industry sources said.