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  • Dec 21, 2014
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Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 3:32am

Civil service is cosiest collective bargain

Pay disparity with private sector holds back the economy and warrants more attention than the government-led finger-pointing at the dockers

A collective bargaining law would not help the working class if the economy did not look good, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday.

SCMP, May 10

 

Do I take it then, C.Y., that you would be in favour of a collective bargaining law if the economy did look good? And what is so bad about the look of the economy at the moment, Sir?

Let me set out my stance. My libertarian principles compel me to accept that if we encourage people to pool their money to form companies, then we have no grounds for discouraging people from pooling their labour to form unions. And, contrary to what our chief executive appears to say, we do already have a collective bargaining law. It is written into Article 27 of the Basic Law, which grants us freedom of association. Every international law decision has accepted that this confers the right to form trade unions for collective bargaining.

It doesn't force employers to bow to union demands but it does say that a striking dock worker can tell his boss, "Lee Cheuk-yan over there speaks for me", and that his government has no right to stop him from doing so.

I think the point is particularly worth making because there is an element of hypocrisy in the vehemence with which some government officials have blamed port workers for the recent container port strike and repeatedly told them to go back to work without a formal settlement.

The last time anyone ran a proper independent survey on government pay was more than 10 years ago. It was commissioned by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and conducted by human resources specialists Watson Wyatt Worldwide. It showed that on a like-for-like basis, civil servants were paid almost three times as much in total compensation as their private-sector counterparts. The civil servants took great umbrage at these findings, of course, and had the government conduct its own survey, which conveniently ignored all civil service perks and then skewed the like-for-like comparisons. This inevitably showed a lesser margin of overpay. No one has since found reason to annoy civil servants by conducting an independent survey.

We have very strong unions in Hong Kong. They are the civil service unions. They can get what they want without striking, because the decision makers on their pay are promoted directly from their own ranks and because they don't have to struggle in a competitive market to make money, as the rest of us do. They can just dun a third party for it - us.

It's the way things have gone around the world. Private-sector unions are in decline, but public-sector unions are stronger than ever, and the pay disparity between the two steadily increases.

Let's set C.Y. straight about the economy. The link between growth of gross domestic product and wage increases is actually rather tenuous. When times are good, employers pay shareholders more before they think of employees.

There is a much closer link, an inverse one, between unemployment and wage growth, as the chart shows. The workers get priority when there is a shortage of workers. The bosses pay more only when they have to do so.

But government can always skew things back in favour of employers by opening our borders to labour migrants. It's the favoured solution. Look at any road maintenance crew these days.

The result is ever wider income disparity and a braking effect on the pace of our economic development. We have far too many menial jobs in this town for an economy so rich. But then we must all speak for our constituents, and C.Y. has spoken for his.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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SpeakFreely
"We have very strong unions in Hong Kong. They are the civil service unions. They can get what they want without striking, because the decision makers on their pay are promoted directly from their own ranks and because they don't have to struggle in a competitive market to make money, as the rest of us do. They can just dun a third party for it - us." I'm glad u bring this up as no politician dares to upset this big voters. First, they are not as efficient as they claim from many incidents such as the lamma ferry, ICAC commissioner, mau tau Wai building collapse, collapse of elevator, etc. etc. second, they are very expensive including all costs probably 3 to 4 times as private sector workers of similar capability. Hk civil servants are still getting none of the world getting such as paid vacation overseas for some senior staff (used to I'm not 100% sure mostly for expat) and eduction for kids studying overseas. They were even getting double pay for acting for their boss when they are on holiday (I'm not sure this is still in force) but this are just few unheard of perks in the whole world.
mymak
Well here we go again Jake. Let's attack the fat cats of the civil service for their hypocrisy. Reality check number one - it is now 2013. Quoting figures ten years out of date would at one time have put you in the corner of the classroom with a dunce's hat on. The figures you quote are irrelevant as they do not reflect the realities of society or the realities of pay now.
Reality check number two. The fat cats exist. They are at the top. Your attempts to engineer a backlash against the civil service will lead to the rank and file getting pay cuts. It would be unfortunate for your dream world if the majority of civil servants then turned around and either quit or perhaps request some of the perks available in your commercial sector - 13 or 14 month salaries, performance bonuses, etc. If you want the civil service to be compensated in line with other sectors then you need to bite the bullet and be prepared to offer the full array of potential income sources. I fear lower salaries or a move to a more commercial model of compensation would lead to an increased loss of skilled workers and may also be an invitation for greater corruption.
Byebye
Quote "......civil servants were paid almost three times as much in total compensation as their private-sector counterparts. ....." ~~~ Civil or government servants serve the people of the country; everything that involves tax payer's money ( from the people) ought to be accountable for. Some of the perks or financial rewards dated back to colonial time made for the expatriates outsourced from the U.K. may not be applicable and feasible anymore. Time to do an independent survey for the employees of the People, and see what can be done. Many private enterprises have already abolished expatriate terms as early as 10 years ago even though they continue to employ expatriates. Something for all Hong Kongers to ponder!
seikocreamy
If you give civil servants like cops pay performance targets, you are just asking for trouble. What would you equate the Police to in the commercial sector anyway? Pay them like security guards? History already tells us what happens with poorly paid Police officers. And what about the Fire Service? Who are they equivalent to in the commercial sector? Who in the commercial sector would run into a burning building to save your pathetic hide Jake?
likingming
The higher the public sector's salary would need to lower the private sector's salary in order not to hurt the overall competitiveveness of HK. That is a civil servant with salary $40000 pm would necessitate a non-civil-servant with $10000 pm or below to make the average of $25000 (40000+10000)/2 or below and to keep HK competitiveness. No wonder the servants of the civil servants lead a miserable live in HK.
chaz_hen
Please STOP!! The more I read the pages of the SCMP the more I'm convinced HK has about a decade to go before becoming a mostly irrelevant 2nd tier mainland city!! (fingers in ear, eyes shut tightly and making loud noises)
 
 
 
 
 

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