After months of back-and-forth in cabinet over various wage hike proposals, Lebanese employers will finally face the inevitable. Wage Hike Decree (WHD) no. 7424 will have most employers opting for the “survival of the fittest” course in containing rising costs that could, otherwise, heavily impact their books.
The WHD will impose itself on companies’ income statements in two principal ways. The first is in the form of higher cash flows costs, from which there is no real escape. Employers may opt for cost-cutting strategies (such as cutting jobs, enforcing part-time work, putting expansion plans on hold, etc.) but at the end of the day, most companies will feel the impact. The second will appear in the form of higher non-cash accounting provisions within the income statements, such as the end-of-service indemnity provisions. Employers are fully aware that few fair measures for bypassing the higher cash flows exist; the question is can the same be said about the non-cash components, and the answer is yes.
The recent WHD, effective February 1, raised the minimum wage to LL675,000, rescinding the 2008 cost of living increase of LL200,000. Moreover it imposes salary increases ranging between LL175,000 and LL299,000.
This overall increase in workers’ wages is expected to have a major impact on company cash flows in 2012 and on their income statements: cash out-flows will increase as payrolls rise and consequently so will employers’ contributions to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Entities that mainly employ low-wage, low-skill workers will be significantly affected as their percentage increase in labor costs will be among the highest. As for their income statements, the financial hit will be a by-product of the increased provisions taken for the NSSF’s end of service indemnity (EOSI).
The NSSF’s EOSI branch is a mandatory program under which an employer pays contributions to the NSSF on behalf of its registered employees (the contribution being 8.5 percent of declared earnings, of which 0.5 percent goes to covering NSSF’s administrative expenses). At the time a worker cashes out his EOSI benefit, the employer may be liable to pay a settlement to the NSSF in the event that net paid contributions (8.0 percent), along with the interest credited, are insufficient to cover the EOSI amount.
Employers typically keep, what is generally called an ‘EOSI provision’ to cover any possible future settlements payable to the NSSF. Under normal circumstances, this provision witnesses an annual growth due to a myriad of factors: the number of years served by employees, the evolution of declared earnings, worker movements, and so on.
In addition to affecting employers’ total payroll, the latest WHD is expected to result in significantly higher EOSI provisions, which will further aggravate the impact on income statements in 2012.
Containing the adverse increase of the EOSI provision
Full implementation of International Accounting Standard no. 19 (IAS 19) — one of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) — can be seen as a readily available solution for employers wishing to mitigate part of the adverse impacts that will inevitably result from the WHD. In fact, fully complying with IAS 19 will likely cancel out most of (if not all) o the expected increase to the EOSI provision.
Corporations in Lebanon are required to prepare their financial statements in accordance with the IFRS, including IAS 19. However, the majority of employers overlook certain aspects of this standard, in particular those pertaining to long-term, post-employment benefits. Indeed, an alternative accounting practice is commonly used in Lebanon and in the region to determine these provisions (including the EOSI provision); however the inherent inaccuracies of this practice overstate the fair level of such provisions by 20, 30 and sometimes as much as 50 percent.
The commonly used method effectively calculates the EOSI provision based on the assumptions that the entity will terminate its operation on the balance sheet date and that all its workers will cash out their EOSI rights at that date, which is contrary to what is known as “going-concern”.
Over the last few years, an increasing number of corporations started determining their provisions, pertaining to post-employment benefits (EOSI provision in particular), in accordance with IAS 19. These are typically multinational or large local companies from different industries. Moreover, several organizations have carried out an assessment of the financial impacts resulting from the potential implementation of IAS 19, since it is likely to be requested by auditors in the coming few years, though many have yet to actually apply the standard.
IAS 19 in a nutshell
IAS 19 specifies the accounting methods and disclosure requirements for determining the employee benefits costs (cash & non-cash). In particular, it prescribes an adequate and objective approach for estimating employers’ obligations related to post-employment benefits by allocating the cost of such benefits in an orderly manner over the period where employees are expected to acquire them.
And as such, through the use of actuarial techniques, the EOSI provision would be determined as the present value of accrued rights (at the balance sheet date) expected to be paid sometime in the future.
Company XYZ with 400 Employees
In an effort to elaborate on, and give a tangible sense to, the above, let’s take the case of a mock company (XYZ) which employs 400 workers in Lebanon.
The line graph on the following page shows the declared earnings distribution (before and after the WHD), as well as the distribution of Years of Contribution to EOSI, for XYZ’s employee population as at February 2012.
The line chart and bar graph represent an EOSI provision based on the accounting method that is commonly used in Lebanon, as does the table. It clearly shows a 26 percent increase to this provision caused by the WHD. It also reveals that by implementing IAS 19, the level of EOSI provision drops back to around its initial level, which tells us that the current accounting method used by most Lebanese entities significantly overstates what would otherwise be the fair level of EOSI provisions; by 32 percent in the case of Company XYZ.
This fictive example also shows that generally, the pace of EOSI provision’s evolution is relatively slower under IAS 19 than under the accounting method commonly used in Lebanon.
Not a crisis
The passing of crises, political turmoil and government regulations, has taught many corporations that long term strategizing in the face of mounting costs is key to sustenance and survival. Lebanese employers should consider the applicability of all available solutions to their situation.
Although the recent wage hike decree will inevitably strain companies’ finances, avoiding the double hit on their income statements in 2012 is possible if they heed the words of the late American poet Robert Lee Frost that “the best way out of a difficulty, is through it.”