SCMP Monday, May 22, 2000

Debate over civil service pay persists


The war of words between Liberal Party chief James Tien Pei-chun and unionists over civil service pay is dragging on, with both sides refusing to back down.

Although Mr Tien has now said a pay freeze this year would be acceptable, he maintained there were grounds for the Government to cut salaries. "I agree that staff morale would be undermined and I'll support [a freeze]. But having said that, indicators are indicators, and pay cuts should follow," Mr Tien told RTHK's City Forum.

This year's private sector pay-trends survey, on which the Government bases civil service pay, suggested reductions in the public sector of between 0.41 and 1.97 per cent. Mr Tien, who says the performance of civil servants has not improved despite previous pay rises, said the survey failed to reflect downsizing in the private sector. He warned an increase of one per cent would cost taxpayers $1 billion.

The Government, Mr Tien said, had no case to push for increases in 3,000 fees and charges if it would not cut staff costs. However, Chinese Civil Servants' Association vice-president Peter Wong Hyo said the Government should increase pay by 1.61 per cent to cover an accumulated shortfall over the past decade. He said there was no benchmark to compare civil servants with private-sector employees.

Institute of Human Resource Management external affairs director Eddie Ng Hak-kim agreed some government jobs were overpaid. But he backed the pay claim if staff could show more commitment to performance. "A sum of $1 billion is important. But if it can ease staff worries and make them show more commitment to performance, the sum is worth spending."