CHINA will be urged to block a Housing Authority move handing over maintenance, cleansing and estate security to private property managers. The move at three new estates could mean up to 80 per cent fewer staff being hired. Estate staff are resisting the move, fearing it will hit promotion prospects or result in mass sackings when it is extended to all estates. Unionists are expected to raise concerns with the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) social and security sub-group tomorrow. The privatisation policy, endorsed by the management and operations committee yesterday, aims to contain the 14,000-staff bureaucracy and rising costs. Unionist and PWC member Tam Yiu-chung called for staff consultation. 'The authority should explain how quality can be upgraded by privatisation and should assure staff that their jobs would not be affected. We would oppose any plans which might lead to unemployment,' he said. The authority will run a trial scheme in three new rental estates next year, with the long-term aim to privatise management of all estates by 1997-98. The trials involve more than 9,000 units in Tseung Kwan O, Shau Kei Wan and Kwun Tong. The authority, while keeping the final say on tenancy contracts, will hand over control of daily cleansing, minor maintenance and security patrols. It estimates saving at least 25 per cent of costs and almost 80 per cent of manpower. The number of officers needed for managing a typical 6,000-flat estate could plunge from 60 to 13, cutting costs from $1.6 million to $510,000 a month. Given the $650,000 needed to hire management firms, the authority can still save 27.5 per cent of costs. About 6,700 of the 140,000 housing staff are responsible for estate management. Staff numbers rose by about five per cent in 1994-95 while the number of rental units rose by 3.8 per cent in the same period. The authority has plans to increase staff by another 3.2 per cent or 480 in the next financial year. Of them, 300 will be responsible for managing estates. The staff salary bill will reach $5.5 billion in 1996-97 and other costs will hit $23.9 billion over the next four years. The authority gets an average monthly rental of $1,012, but is spending $189 per unit a month more than this on management. It has predicted an accumulated deficit of $11.8 billion in managing rental estates by the end of 1998-99. It is part of a series of reforms authority chairman and Executive Council convener Rosanna Wong Yick-ming has ordered in the wake of tenants' soaring discontent. The authority topped the list of the Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, with 299 complaints over the past year. Management and operations committee chairman Chan Kam-man said: 'By making use of agents' expertise and flexibility, we hope to meet tenants' rising expectations in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.' But Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy chairman Lo Chau said tenants should be allowed to monitor the firms. 'We cannot allow the authority to make use of privatisation to wash its hands and escape responsibility to the tenants.'