Apology issued over 'idling' slur

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2009, 12:00am

Unionists representing customs staff say the deputy head of the Immigration Department has apologised over a remark by a department officer to journalists on Sunday that customs officers were 'always idling'.

The unionists say the deputy director of immigration, David Chiu Wai-kai, called the deputy commissioner of customs and excise, Luke Au Yeung Ho-lok, yesterday to apologise for the remark.

Immigration unions also called on their customs counterparts to apologise on Monday, immediately after the quote appeared in Chinese- language newspapers.

Neither department would confirm the apology by Mr Chiu yesterday but they did not deny it.

The row comes against a background of campaigns by several disciplined-service unions over pay. It broke out after newspapers quoted a chief immigration assistant, identified as Ms Chung, saying immigration staff 'had to work hard for eight hours every day, unlike customs officers, who were always idling'.

Customs Officers Union vice-chairman Chan Ming said many members were outraged by the comment, which he said showed a lack of understanding of customs duties.

Mr Chan said his union believed Ms Chung had made the comment because she was ignorant about their duties, which involved checking Hong Kong's 'huge' passenger and cargo traffic. He said Mr Chiu had telephoned Mr Au Yeung yesterday to apologise.

A customs spokeswoman said only that 'different disciplined services have their unique job natures' and the department would back the staff in striving for their reasonable demands. The Immigration Department declined to comment.

The chairman of the Immigration Services Officers' Association, William Lee Hok-lim, admitted the comment was inappropriate and said the union had apologised to the customs department and its unions.

Meanwhile, another customs union leader said the recommendations by a government-appointed committee reviewing the grade structure of the seven disciplined services had failed to reflect customs' unique job duties.

The report, published in November, recommended a general pay rise for all disciplined services.

'Some duties we are performing, such as anti-drugs and anti-smuggling operations, are almost the same as those undertaken by police,' said Suen Kwok-cheung, vice-chairman of the Staff Association of Customs and Excise Service Senior Officers. 'What we want is fair pay and conditions and closing of the gap with the police.'

An officer-rank staff member in customs earns a starting salary of HK$14,685 a month, while a police constable starts at HK$16,655.

The gap in salary is wider for more senior staff, with a chief customs officer earning a maximum of HK$29,365, compared with HK$37,265 for a police station sergeant.

Mr Suen said his association had no plans at the moment to step up its actions but urged the Civil Service Bureau to consider its demands. The officers would fight for their benefits through existing channels, he said.

Customs was the third of the seven services, after police and immigration, to go public in the fight for their pay and conditions before the Civil Service Bureau submits the grade structure report to the Executive Council in the next two months.

Fire services and correctional services unions will also hold staff meetings this month over the grade structure review.

Pay scales

Police constable

Immigration assistant

Customs officer, assistant correctional services officer, fireman, ambulanceman

Source: Immigration Services Officers' Association