Pay rises should be given to temporary library assistants, who are paid as little as HK$30 an hour - a few dollars more than cleaners and cashiers at convenience stores and supermarkets, labour unions said.
Gwendoline Yim, a former chairwoman of the Union of Leisure and Cultural Services Department Contract Staff who used to work as a part-time library assistant, said the rate used to be even lower a few years ago.
'Some were paid HK$25 for shelving books and some got HK$29. It all depended on the arrangements made by different recruitment agencies. I found it quite shocking when I first learned about the hourly rate,' Ms Yim said. 'The requirements for the post are demanding, yet the rate is disappointing.'
Three employment systems are currently in place for assistants at public libraries. They are either civil servants, or employed under non-civil-servant contracts or hired through recruitment companies.
'The civil servants get welfare and pay rises, and their starting salary is over HK$10,000. Contract staff earn about HK$8,000 a month without welfare,' Ms Yim said.
'Those hired by recruitment agencies have nothing but the HK$30 hourly rate. They can only make more if they work longer hours.'
Despite the low rate, the skills required for the post are quite demanding, according to a job advertisement posted by Manpower Services, which won the government contract.
The job ad says candidates should be Form Five graduates who can speak simple Putonghua and English. They should have grade E or above in Chinese, English and mathematics in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, and computer skills with a minimum typing speed of 20 words a minute in English and 10 words a minute in Chinese.
Job duties include handling library materials, answering questions from the public and performing data entry and clerical duties. Successful applicants must complete 20 hours' training before being assigned to duties that pay HK$30 per hour.
Hong Kong Government Librarians Association chairman Edward Tse Wun-shuen said the government had tried to save costs by introducing a non-civil-servant contract system and bringing in recruitment companies to refer workers to public libraries.
'But the different hiring systems have heavily burdened library staff at managerial levels, as they have to handle tonnes of paperwork and administration work for human resources,' he said.
Mr Tse warned the service quality of public libraries would be compromised in the long term, as too much time was wasted on administration.
A spokeswoman for the LCSD said the concerned library assistants were employed directly by the service bureaus, and their wage level was determined by their contracts.
'These service bureaus [recruitment companies] are paid for their service at the libraries on an hourly basis, and not by head count. Their service constitutes about 25 per cent of the libraries' frontline services.'