Civil servants grossly overpaid, despite charade saying otherwise

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am

'Speaking after a briefing on pay figures, legislator Howard Young of the business affiliated Liberal Party said the wage gap was less severe than in 2003.

''My initial impression is that the huge pay gap that existed a few years ago is no longer there,' he said.'

SCMP, January 30

I THINK SOMEONE has confused the term 'initial impression' with the term 'false impression' here.

Civil servants in 2003 were on average paid more than three times as much as their private sector equivalents and there is no possible way that this huge pay gap has gone.

But there is certainly a campaign on in civil service ranks to make us think that it has indeed vanished ... poof ... just like that, and pay increases for the bureaucrats are therefore quite in order again.

Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee lent herself to this deception on Monday by leaking a few figures from a consultant's pay study to staff representatives and to members of a steering committee on pay adjustment.

You may well ask why she had to make it a furtive release of the figures rather than telling all of us what the consultant's study showed. It is our money after all. We, the general public, are the people who pay these salaries through our taxes. Why are we kept in the dark?

I can only suppose that Howard Young indirectly provided us the answer. Leak the right selected figures to the right selected people and they will then say the right selected thing for you - 'pay gap no longer there'.

Thank you, Howard, you fell for it. Now stick to tourism, will you?

Keeping the raw figures dark also allows you play with them before you let the public see anything. As our report put the views of one member of the steering committee: 'He believed the pay comparison figures would be adjusted by the government after taking into account the unique characteristics of civil service jobs.'

'Unique characteristics' is bureaucrat jargon for pretending that one civil servant is worth two private sector employees and therefore ought to be paid twice as much.

This is a very quick and easy way of reducing pay gaps and I am sure good use will be made of it. Don't bother to ask whether the worth rating should not actually be made the other way round. Ms Yue won't.

Let's cut to the chase here. The consultants who did the pay study are Watson Wyatt Worldwide, an international pay specialist, and this is not the firm's first pay study of Hong Kong civil servants.

It conducted a very similar one in 2003 for the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the conclusions to which it came at the time were stunning.

Excluding the disciplined services but otherwise comparing all major job families, our civil servants were paid 229 per cent more than their private sector counterparts in total pay and benefits.

The chamber watered these findings down by emphasising comparisons that excluded benefits and by going along with the game of pretending that civil servants are worth more. There was no getting around the crucial figure, however, 229 per cent more than the private sector.

Of course, civil servants then loudly accused Watson Wyatt of unfair distortions. I received plenty of emails on the subject from them and to all these emails I made the same response - prove the findings wrong if you can and then write back to me. I am still waiting.

But someone in the civil service had a better idea - don't fight them, hire them. Watson Wyatt was thus hired to do the government's own official pay survey and given a brief to blind itself to certain distortions.

Forget the perks and benefits, the bureaucrats said. Just concern yourself with the straight pay. We'll deal with the perks and benefits separately.

They then dealt with the perks and benefits separately or, rather, did not but pretended to. Watson Wyatt was thus stuck with doing a pay comparison survey that ignored where public sector pay exceeds private sector pay by the greatest margin - those perks and benefits.

All very clever and cleverer yet because the bureaucrats could then also tell Watson Wyatt not to bother itself with the 'adjustment for unique characteristics'. The pay steering committee would do this itself.

The result, and we had the first instalment of it on Monday as a finding to which Watson Wyatt must now lend its name, is that on balance and all things considered and blah-blah-blah, civil service pay may be a little better than private sector pay but not much and not by enough really to stand in the way of pay increases.


Our civil servants are hugely overpaid by reference to their private sector counterparts. I smell another chief executive election rat here.



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