Amidst current expenditure cuts in the public and private sectors, employees of some 186 non-governmental organisations (NG0s) have been hard hit by a productivity enhancement exercise.
Since April 2000, as part of the Social Welfare Department's (SWD) subvention reforms, NGOs have been given a lump sum grant. Instead of getting fully subvented for expenses incurred they have to secure funds from other sources to top up their subvention.
Supporters of the new service performance monitoring system believe that it gives flexibility to agency heads in staff recruitment, makes NGOs more innovative in exploring funding sources, and enables them to make better use of staff resources.
Unfortunately, reduced subvention has prompted an across-the-board scale down of salaries in the voluntary sector during the past two years, as well as an array of undesirable recruitment practices. Apart from the cutting of fringe benefits, forced retirement of senior workers to make way for lower pay contract staff is also a common practice. Some NGOs, uncertain about their long-term financial prospects are signing monthly contracts with new recruits.
Furthermore, to avoid operating in the red and to ensure competitive bidding for project funds, many agency directors are beginning to seek outside professional help by creating well-paid public relations and marketing posts. It must be pointed out that the 27,000 employees of NGOs had hitherto been paid according to government scales and enjoyed benefits similar to those of their civil service counterparts. As such, the demoralising effect on the experienced, highly qualified social work professionals and the negative impact on the quality of service have become a matter of concern.
Without first getting ready the hardware and software needed for reforms, the SWD has inadvertently ignored the fact that agency heads are not trained to raise funds. The much-needed business improvement project that should provide ready solutions to some of the problems mentioned above has encountered undue delay.
Following the recent spate of family tragedies, the Government emphasised the importance for people to seek preventive social services. The sagging morale in the NGOs is deterring people from joining the helping profession, with long-term repercussions on the quality of our welfare services. The Government should re-think its subvention reforms, taking into consideration the social costs it has to bear.