Staff shares fast-track ruled out

Commerce Minister Craig Foss has ruled out ''fast-tracking'' a law change already in the pipeline that would make it easier for companies to offer employees shares.

Grant Burley, director of information technology recruitment firm Absolute IT, yesterday became the latest to call for the expedited removal of red tape surrounding employee share schemes.

That was in the wake of an annual survey by the firm which found median salaries in the information technology industry had stagnated at $75,000 a year.

Burley said employee share schemes could give technology start-ups a shot in the arm, especially as they could not always compete for talent at market rates.

''Our team regularly sees the difference offering additional benefits, like stock options, can make when attracting the best technology talent, or encouraging offshore talent to relocate to New Zealand,'' he said.

''New Zealand is home to some world-leading technology start-ups and with the flexibility to offer employees ownership and the chance to be part of the risk and success, it would benefit not only that business, but the ICT industry and the New Zealand economy as a whole.

''Reforms that would exempt employee share schemes from securities law and oversight by the Financial Market Authority are bound up in the mammoth 665-page Financial Markets Conduct Bill, which Wellington lawyer Andrew Simmons last week forecast would not be enacted before April next year.

Simmons and Xero chief executive Rod Drury have called on the Government to consider carving out the share scheme changes from the Bill so they could be enacted earlier, but Foss said that was not practical.It was good to hear strong support from the technology sector, he said. But the exemption was ''part of a complex package of regulatory reforms'' which should not be unravelled. ''I am keen to have the Bill in force, but not at the expense of the implementation being smooth and effective,'' he said.

The use of stock options was increasing, Absolute IT's salary survey found, but they were still only being offered to 4 per cent of IT workers.

While median pay for IT professionals has not risen in the past year, Absolute IT found more employers were also offering flexible working hours, extra annual leave, health care subsidies and other allowances.

That data was drawn from anonymous submissions by more than 27,500 IT workers  - more than half the total employed by the industry - to a website,

Fifty-five per cent of submitters said they received extra benefits as part of their employment package and 86 per cent said they were happy at their places of work, despite the lack of pay rises and despite pay being top of their agenda.

Wellington offers IT workers the highest pay, with a median salary of $81,000, Absolute IT found. That was even though median pay for public sector IT workers decreased 3 per cent to just under $80,000.That compared with median pay of $75,000 in Auckland and $70,000 in the South Island. Nationally, IT professionals with a degree earned on average 26 per cent more than those without.

Flexible working hours: 28%, up from 24%
Healthcare subsidies: 26%, up from 24%
Company paid training: 23%, up from 21%
Extra annual leave: 9%, up from 8%
Stock options: 4%, up from 3%
Helpdesk worker: $40,000 to $56,000
Software programmer: $60,000 to $90,000
Business analyst: $65,000 to $95,000
Consultant: $70,000 to $107,500
IT architect: $97,500 to $130,000