Civil servants' cruise perk could cost $100m

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 1997, 12:00am

The Special Administrative Region could face a $100 million bill if the 697 expatriate civil servants eligible for a luxury cruise home at the end of their service take the perk.

Fifty-three retiring civil servants and 72 family members set sail for Britain at taxpayers' expense on Thursday night aboard the Oriana, and the QE2 leaves tonight with 16 retiring officers and 17 dependants.

Civil Service Branch officials said last night the departures left 697 officers still eligible for a government-paid sea passage, worth $62,700, although some might opt to fly back to Britain.

Although sea passage home for officers hired in Britain is regarded as a colonial perk, the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants says the Government remains contractually bound to deliver it to those who qualify.

A Civil Service Branch spokesman said: 'In November 1992, the Government proposed the complete abolition of the sea-passage benefit with compensation to those eligible officers.

'The proposal was objected to by staff associations on the grounds that the action amounted to a unilateral change in their existing conditions of service.

'The Finance Committee of the Legislative Council asked the Government to discuss [the topic] further with staff. To date, it has not been possible to achieve this, and the present stance of the major overseas and local staff associations remains unchanged.' The QE2, on its last call at Hong Kong under British rule, picks up 400 new passengers today.

Captain, Commodore John Burton-Hall, on his last round-the-world voyage, said the occasion was poignant, but Hong Kong would remain a 'main feature' of the world cruise. 'I've been sailing in here since 1952. Things have changed a bit but it remains exciting,' he said.