Civil servants under attack in pay survey

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 12:00am

Critics rounded on civil servants yesterday after a survey found they earn at least 17 per cent more than their private-sector counterparts.

In some cases, pay for government workers is more than triple that of employees in the business world, the study commissioned by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce found.

Civil service unions said the survey was biased and incomplete.

Calls for cuts to civil service staff levels and salaries have increased as the government's budget deficit has mounted. The administration spent $77.3 billion more than it earned up to December, and Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has promised to cut spending to ease the shortfall.

'Our chamber finds the results alarming,' said chairman Christopher Cheng Wai-chee.

But Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said the results were not reliable.

'I wonder how accurate the survey is. It would take more than a year to complete the survey given that there are about 170,000 civil servants.'

It was only used as a bargaining chip by the chamber with the government to press for a pay cut, he said.

The survey, by human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, found salaries, excluding housing allowances and other benefits at even the highest-paying companies did not match up to median pay for civil servants, which was 17 per cent higher.

When median civil service pay is compared with salaries at companies paying average rates, the gap grew to 34 per cent. After benefits such as housing, schooling and travel were thrown into the equation, the gap widened even more to as much as 229 per cent.

Watson Wyatt compared publicly available information on 76 types of employment covering 69,000 civil service jobs, with 50,000 jobs at 275 companies in its own database between March and September.

Brian Renwick, a consultant working for the chamber, estimated that civil servant salaries had been rising by 1 to 2 per cent each year since 1986-87, when the government introduced a pay revision formula.

The chamber recommends cutting civil service pay by 6 per cent. Last month, executive councillor James Tien Pei-chun, chairman of the Liberal Party, said such a cut would save $7 billion a year.

Civil service unions have already filed a lawsuit over a pay cut last October of 1.58 to 4.42 per cent. The Basic Law says civil service pay should not be less favourable than before the handover.

Chamber chief executive Eden Woon Yi-teng said the goal of the pay review was not to use the figures to call for a massive reduction in pay. Rather, the chamber wants a restructuring of the civil service, including departments taking responsibility for their own personnel management.

It also called for the government to carry out its own pay-level study immediately, to outsource more non-essential duties and to no longer guarantee that there would not be any layoffs.

Secretary for Civil Service Joseph Wong Wing-ping refused to comment on the survey. Mr Tien said yesterday no agreement had been reached by the cross-party coalition on the pay-cut issue but it had said that it should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Cecilia So Chui-kuen, president of the Chinese Civil Servants Association, said it would be difficult to compare jobs that were not of the same nature.

Pang Tat-choi, chairman of the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers' Association, said: 'No unions were involved in the survey. We will not bow to the pressure.'

Graphic: PAY14GET

Graphic: PAY14AGET