(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions
expressed are her own.) (Removes unnecessary space around
By Katrina Hamlin
HONG KONG Dec 21 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Smog is casting
a sickly shadow over Asia. Poisonous air is currently blanketing
a large swathe of northern China. New Delhi was choking in
October after pollution intensified with fireworks let off to
celebrate the annual Diwali festival. The air quality problem is
now such that employers will need to factor in a fatter premium
in 2017 if they want to attract the best brains in the region's
dynamic but dirty markets.
Graphic: Dirtier destinations rank low among expats'
favourite places to live and work: tmsnrt.rs/2gk2vMY
The continent is already home to the world's scummiest
skies, and the problem is getting worse. This is a growing
headache for companies that want to tap the same economic
expansion that is fuelling the smog. A Breakingviews analysis of
HSBC's 2016 expat survey shows countries with severe air
pollution are much less attractive despite career opportunities.
This could prove expensive for multinationals. The Economist
Intelligence Unit and U.S. consultancy firm Mercer - which
advise employers on hardship allowances for globetrotting execs
- say clients are increasingly concerned about costlier
compensation for bad air. In hotspots like Beijing where the air
quality is already notorious, negotiations over a pollution
premium can drive salaries as much as 5 percent higher. Where
pollution is rising, as in India, haze haggling over
remuneration could become an even bigger battle.
Employees will also expect pricy benefits. In China, it is
now common to have air filtration systems in both the office and
home. In India, companies are providing extras like facemasks -
local distributor Nirvana India told Reuters last month that
sales were almost ten times greater than a year earlier.
Then there are the mounting costs of inconvenience and ill
health. Around 10 percent of the workforce called in sick during
a recent smoggy spell in Delhi according to one survey by
the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India
(Assocham). In Beijing there is a formal system to shut down
schools and factories on the dirtiest days; hundreds of flights
were also cancelled this week.
Some companies are mulling even more extreme measures -
Paytm, the Alibaba-backed digital wallet, is one of several
that has considered moving from its base outside Delhi.
Assocham fears the pollution issue could threaten billions of
dollars of new investment.
Ambitious companies will be loath to let the best brains
leave their fastest growing markets, smog or no smog. But if
employees have to suck it up, employers will have to pay up.
On Twitter twitter.com/KatrinaHamlin
- Beijing issued a red alert, the highest possible air
pollution warning, on Dec. 15. High levels of pollution have
continued across northern China since then, and as many as 24
cities had issued similar warnings by Dec. 20, according to
China Environmental News.
- Average levels of small pollutants in the atmosphere
reached a so-called PM2.5 measure of 72 in South Asia in 2015,
according to World Bank data.
- South Asia was the worst affected region, and PM2.5
readings there have been growing steadily worse over the past
five years, according to the dataset.
- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can
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(Editing by Una Galani and Nicolle Liu)