An influential advisory body on civil service pay has recommended cutting the starting salaries of civil servants with university degrees by about HK$2,000.
The recommendation by the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service sparked union fears that lowering salaries for new government recruits would worsen the ageing problem within the civil service, while a human resources expert said the move would make it easier for companies to hire staff.
According to the starting salaries survey conducted by the commission last year, pay for university graduates recruited by the private sector from April 2008 to April last year averaged HK$18,504 a month, compared with HK$21,880 for non-directorate-level civil service jobs that require university degrees.
The survey covered 7,938 employees in 112 companies. The survey is conducted every three years.
Despite a gap of HK$3,376 in starting salaries, the commission recommended reducing entry pay for non-directorate-level civil servants with degrees by HK$2,045 to HK$19,835. The jobs affected would include executive officer II, simultaneous interpreter and assistant social work officer. If the recommendation is adopted, starting salaries for degree-holders in non-directorate posts would be just HK$1,000 higher than the monthly salary of HK$18,885 for jobs that require higher diplomas.
Starting salaries for civil servants in the education grade, including assistant education officer and assistant inspector, would also be reduced by two pay points, or about HK$2,000. Their existing starting salaries range from HK$22,985 to HK$33,520. Newly recruited teachers at subsidised schools who are degree-holders would also be affected by the recommendation.
Commission chairman Nicky Lo Kar-chun said apart from the survey findings, the commission also took into account factors like attractiveness and stability of civil service pay.
'The commission considers that changes to the starting salaries of the civil service should be moderated as appropriate to avoid unnecessary volatility,' he said.
The report was submitted to the chief executive yesterday, and the Civil Service Bureau will canvass the views of civil service unions. It is still not clear when the new starting salaries would be implemented.
Li Kwai-yin, vice-president of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, said the recommendation would make it more difficult for the government to lure talented people with degrees, as starting salaries between the government and private sector would narrow significantly.
'It wouldn't help ease succession problems in the civil service, which will witness waves of retirement in the next five or 10 years,' she said.
The number of civil servants who are retiring is expected to increase to 7,000 a year in the next 10 years.
Lai Kam-tong, past president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, said entry level salaries for fresh university graduates averaged between HK$12,000 and HK$13,000, far lower than civil service wages.
He said lowering starting salaries for civil servants to more competitive levels would make it easier for firms to hire staff, otherwise 'everyone will join the civil service if the difference in starting salaries is too great'.
Overall salaries in the private sector have fallen since the third quarter of 2008, as a result of the global downturn. Although wages started picking up in the fourth quarter of last year, pay had not yet returned to pre-crisis levels, Lai said.
Wages on average were expected to rise between 2 per cent and 3 per cent this year, Lai said.
The Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants' Union has urged the airline to compensate or reward crew who took unpaid leave in April last year. The airline announces its annual results today. The union also urged the company to resume traditional year-end negotiation on pay.
A cut in new civil servants' pay could be a boost to the private sector
The number of civil servants retiring each year in the next 10 years is expected to rise to: 7,000