Finance: Chartered flights and high rewards

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An old adage of the business world is that "a rolling stone gathers plenty of pay rises". The latest survey from recruitment consultants Robert Half International certainly adds credence to it.

What the company calls "the biggest-ever annual survey of salaries and benefits for the accountancy profession" shows that while the average salary rise in the strong jobs market of the past 12 months was 3.5 per cent, the increase given to those switching employers was 8.3 per cent. Indeed, less than half of employers pay across-the-board salary rises.

As a sign of the wage inflation of recent years, Jeff Grout, managing director of Robert Half, pointed to the fact that in 1981 a young newly- qualified chartered accountant leaving a large firm for the City could expect to earn pounds 11,000. The company has just placed such a person in a similar role at a salary of pounds 40,000.

But even for those changing jobs it is not all gravy. The study covering accountancy staff employed by 737 organisations across all sectors of the economy found that accountants continue to work long hours - just scraping under the European Union recommended maximum with 47.5 hours.

On top of this, nearly a third do not take all their holiday entitlement and 60 per cent take work home at night and at weekends. More than a tenth say they work every other weekend and 40 per cent say they work more than 50 hours a week. On the credit side, two-thirds of organisations pay bonuses, with 85 per cent related to performance.

Mr Grout, who thinks that salary rises are likely to stay ahead of inflation at 2.7 per cent over the coming year, says that the market for finance staff shows great mobility because the acute shortages of part- and newly- qualified accountants is having an impact on all sorts of jobs. "We have seen four successive years of job gains. It is not just for these new jobs that recruitment is taking place, but also for considerable movement within the existing working population," he added.

More than half of the employers surveyed were having difficulties in recruitment, by far the most regular complaint being lack of relevant experience, mentioned by a quarter of respondents. Public practice, the sector where employment gains are expected to be strongest, is finding it most difficult to obtain good candidates. Not surprisingly, it accounts for the highest pay rises, at 4.3 per cent, compared with the public sector's 2.9 per cent.

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