Social workers fear huge wage cuts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 12:00am

Unions warn of large-scale protests if resources for frontline staff are reduced

More than 10,000 senior social workers in Hong Kong could face a salary cut of up to 40 per cent if a transition fund for welfare groups is not renewed in the next budget.

Social workers' unions warned yesterday that there would be large-scale protests if the government pressed ahead with plans to cut resources for frontline staff.

A five-year 'tide-over' grant scheme was introduced four years ago when the administration began allocating resources to non-governmental organisations in a lump sum based on the midpoint salaries of their staff. The transition grant, which amounts to $387 million in the current financial year, helps the NGOs - especially those with a high percentage of senior staff - to stay within their budgets.

The government is expected to decide by the end of next month whether it will continue with the scheme in 2006.

Cheung Kwok-che, chairman of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union, said more than a third of the 40,000 social workers were receiving salaries above the midpoint level. A large number of layoffs and salary cuts of 10 to 40 per cent for the group would be inevitable if the tide-over grant were not renewed, he said.

'As many as 12,000 to 13,000 veteran frontline staff will be affected by a slashing of the grant,' he said. 'Many of these people are still paying for their mortgages or for their children's education overseas. The welfare sector has already been dealt a strong blow with the budget cuts in recent years and we do not believe our members can shoulder a salary cut of up to 40 per cent,' Mr Cheung said.

Lam Ying-hing, organiser of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which represents 10 social services unions, said nearly half of the senior staff - those receiving above-average salaries four years ago - had either left the profession or been dismissed since their employers could not afford their salaries.

'This is a huge loss of talent. Government statistics also show that the number of injuries among social workers supporting the elderly and the disabled has jumped three times in the past decade because of the shortage of staff,' said Ms Lam.

The confederation, which will today meet Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, York Chow Yat-ngok, said it would urge him to renew the grant and impose regulations to ensure that NGO staff were paid and treated fairly by their employers. It warned that mass protests would be held if the government insisted on a subsidy cut.

Cheung Wai-ling, who has been a social worker for 12 years, said her employer had already called a meeting to discuss the future of the tide-over grant.