Frontline security staff at Chek Lap Kok airport will get a 4 per cent pay rise from next month in an attempt to recognise the unique pressures of their jobs and stop them quitting for less stressful work closer to town.
The move is also aimed at keeping staff from leaving for jobs with similar pay when the statutory minimum wage rises from HK$28 to HK$30 per hour in May.
Sidney Chau Foo-cheong, head of the government-owned Aviation Security Company (Avseco), described the increase as "catch-up pay" that would better reflect the nature of aviation security as inherently different from security work elsewhere.
Junior officers who have served at least 12 months will get just over HK$13,000 a month.
Avseco hopes to retain employees who tend to quit after six months to two years.
"We looked at the rate of wastage and realised most people resigned during this period to look for an easier job or one where they can go to work near home," Chau said.
In July, Avseco brought in an independent consultant to review the pay structure of its 3,600 staff. The exercise included a pay comparison with police, customs and immigration officers.
"We are doing work similar to them, so we compared the starting pay for reference and found our pay was quite low," he said. "The consultant also collected information from different security companies."
Compared to security staff elsewhere, the pay was similar but Chau - a former security director with the police who introduced a culture of discipline - said the work was different.
"Given the fact they have to come to the airport, the shift work and the very serious responsibilities - how no errors can be made … they should get more," he said.
Staff were subjected to regular spot checks by police and internal staff, Chau admitted. "If they fail, they will be punished."
Avseco, which is owned by the Airport Authority, provides the staff to run X-ray screening and secondary checks at boarding gates, among other duties.
"We are quite unlike other security companies; we bring some of the good things from the disciplinary services."
As a major international hub, the airport saw 56.5 million passengers pass through its gates last year, up 4.7 per cent from 2011.
The latest pay rise is on top of two increases last year that followed a record 30 per cent staff turnover rate after the minimum wage was introduced.
With the proposal for a third runway well under way and transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung's comments in January that the city might need a fourth runway to handle air traffic beyond 2030, Avseco foresees greater demand for services and a stronger ability to retain staff.
And higher pay is just one of the measures it is employing.
"It's not only pay but other measures such as more promotional prospects, career development opportunities, giving them more experience, coaching them," Chau said.
Steve Sayell, a security consultant who was a chief investigator with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, said aviation security was distinct from other security roles.
"When you are faced with the pressures of these frontline staff, whom every person on a plane depends on, the pressure grows."