Civil-service pay dispute 'sees losers all round'

A rift between the government and its public servants is expected to worsen as ex-minister says there is room for talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 4:12am

The insistence of the Leung Chun-ying administration on its pay rise offer, to the dismay of most civil servant groups, has created a "highly unfortunate" situation in which both sides emerge as losers, former minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee says.

The contentious proposal, announced by Secretary for the Civil Service Paul Tang Kwok-wai a week ago, grants a pay rise of 3.92 per cent for lower and middle salary bands and 2.55 per cent for the upper band.

Since Tang's announcement, three out of four councils on the government's Pay Trend Survey Committee - representing junior and senior civil servants, the police and other disciplined services - have rejected it.

They cite the failure of the figures to meet inflation or allege Tang has deviated from the four-decade-old wage mechanism.

And with the Executive Council giving its approval yesterday, unions say it has widened a rift between the government and the public servants.

Ip, a former security secretary who now sits on both the legislative and executive councils, called for more dialogue between Tang and the unions.

"The Exco today instructed the civil service secretary to more speedily talk with unions and respond positively to the areas affecting the morale of civil servants," she noted.

Asked how she viewed the situation, Ip said: "I think it is highly unfortunate."

She said she understood civil servants faced heavy workloads and sometimes failed to get their rightful benefits, urging the bureau to address these issues.

One of Tang's predecessors defended the government, saying it had been acting reasonably.

"To be honest, I do not understand the justifications raised by the unions," former bureau secretary Joseph Wong Wing-ping said. "Their strong reaction may be attributed to the initial withdrawal from the committee by the police unions, which caused a domino effect."

Wong was referring to the police pulling out of the committee last week - a move followed by the other disciplined services.

That set the stage for turning future pay talks into "political wrestling", he said. "Since the [disciplined services] are no longer represented on the committee, they might say future decisions do not have their backing and refuse to accept them."

He noted that one of the two councils representing non-disciplined-services staff, the Model Scale 1 Staff Consultative Council of lower-paid staff, did not join the boycott.

But the 70,000-strong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, which is represented by the Senior Civil Service Council on the committee, earlier threatened to launch a judicial review against the government's "non-compliance" with the mechanism, before the Exco gave its approval.

Unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said the row showed a need for collective bargaining. "There are overseas examples of unions sitting down with government representatives to bargain on the pay for the coming year, rather than relying on polls, as is Hong Kong's practice. The consultative style is outdated."

Wong said the long-standing system had been effective. "Does salary equal morale totally? Does a 100 per cent pay rise mean a 100 per cent boost in morale?"