Hong Kong's Hospital Authority must devise fair pay review mechanism for our public doctors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 12:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 12:52am

The Hospital Authority has finally yielded to pressure and accepted senior public doctors' demand for a special 3 per cent pay rise. This came after more than 1,000 doctors staged a two-hour sit-in last week, saying they deserved the same adjustment to pay that senior civil servants were offered. While the dispute appears to have been resolved for now, it is necessary to review the pay policies for government-subvented bodies.

The dispute stems from different interpretations of the pay-adjustment policies. The practice now is for government-subvented bodies to follow the annual pay adjustment for civil servants, be it a rise or cut. The Hospital Authority and other public bodies have been doing so.

Watch: Hong Kong public hospital doctors stage mass sit-in for pay rise

But the extra 3 per cent in question came from the pay-level comparison exercise, which is done every six years to keep civil service salaries on par with those in the private sector. The government says it has no policy to apply the findings to public bodies. The issue only surfaced this year, as the comparison conducted six years ago did not warrant any adjustment.

Wedged between the government and medical professionals, the Hospital Authority had no choice but to diffuse the pay dispute by digging into its fiscal reserves. But this is feasible only in times when finances are healthy, and the authority should ensure that the extra spending will not affect the quality of care for patients in the long term.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's senior public hospital medics to get 3pc pay rise after rare high-profile protest

That the Hospital Authority still has no pay policy and adjustment mechanism of its own after 25 years is baffling. The staff are offered pay packages that compensate for the lack of civil service perks and salaries follow the annual civil service pay adjustment. The management should take this opportunity to devise an independent pay policy that could consider whether to offer public doctors salaries that are on par with those in the private sector.

Our world-class hospital system owes much to the dedication and professionalism of our medical workers. They deserve not just respect and support, but also decent conditions of service. The pay dispute has exposed gaps in the system. The government and the Hospital Authority need to work together to put in place policies and mechanisms that meet staff expectations. The last thing patients want to see is doctors staying away from clinics and hospitals to fight for wage increases.