Police rehiring plan may derail talks on raising retirement age, unions fear

Force's move to take on retired officers to help cope with Occupy Central may derail talks on raising retirement age, staff associations say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:06am

Police chiefs have moved quickly to quell anger among unions over a controversial move to rehire retired officers on short-term contracts.

Several police unions last week expressed shock about the hiring plan, accusing management of failing to consult them and claiming the move undermined talks on raising the mandatory retirement age of 55.

The unions' concerns come as police bosses strive for unity in the force amid growing controversy over the role of police during pro-democracy protests, including the July 1 march and the planned Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign.

Police management met representatives of the four police associations for two hours on Friday to discuss the hiring plan, under which former officers would sign non-civil-service contracts. They would support frontline officers but would not be involved in force duties such as executing search warrants.

The plan was understood to have taken effect last week, with former officers given until August 2 to express interest.

This is also the last date for submissions to a government consultation on extending the retirement age for civil servants. Under the government plan, new recruits to the disciplined services - including the police - would work until age 57, with an option to work until 60.

Junior Police Officers Association chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong said yesterday that the meeting helped address some concerns but added that it was still early days.

"We are more understanding of the arrangement but we have to wait and see because we are worried that it will be used when the force encounters recruitment difficulties," said Chan, whose group represents 20,000 officers.

Overseas Inspectors Association chairman Ron Abbott said the unions had voiced their concern over the plan.

"The staff associations aired their views … and suggested some assurances be given that this was not an alternative to increasing the retirement age of serving police officers," he said.

Henry Ngo Chi-hang of the Police Inspectors Association said his group needed more details before commenting.

"But our opinion is that to execute police power, it must be police officers, nobody else; that is our bottom line. Even if they are retired police officers employed on part-time terms, they are no longer police officers," he said.

A police spokeswoman said: "The hiring plan aims to provide manpower to assist in backend support during major police operations.

"Detailed arrangements will be announced to relevant units and formations soon."

Last year, the Customs and Excise Department hired about 100 retired customs officers to provide short-term support at border checkpoints after the government introduced export restrictions on infant formula.

Meanwhile, former police chief Dick Lee Ming-kwai yesterday joined the debate over the policing of rallies. He said it was protests, rather than policing, that had become "politicised".

"A professional policeman should reject orders … that are unlawful or unreasonable, but I can't see [any such order] in Hong Kong nowadays," said Lee, who famously ordered the playing of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to drown out protesters outside the 1997 handover ceremony. He believed relations between the police and the public were not getting any worse.