Senior civil servants have had their pay frozen for the past two years. Last year, all public servants were denied pay rises. Nevertheless, even before the Government embarked on its latest round of a Pay Trend Survey to assess private-sector pay movements, many civil servants expected their salaries to be frozen for yet another year. Now that the survey is believed to have found that private sector salaries dropped slightly last year, they hope the Government will not order a comparable pay cut for them. A freeze would be enough, they argue, because the Government did not award pay rises fully in line with earlier survey findings in the boom years of the early 1990s. The shortfall, according to the unions, amounts to 3.52 per cent. The unions may have a point, although it is always arguable whether the Government should, irrespective of the state of the economy, follow survey findings down to the last decimal point. The Government has not. Although in most years it has tended to shadow the findings, there have been times when it awarded smaller pay rises than suggested by the surveys for fear of fuelling inflation. Whether the 'less than adequate pay rises' during the boom should now be followed by pay cuts or freezes is a complex issue. But on balance a pay freeze seems appropriate now because a wide gap exists between the salaries of civil servants and their private sector counterparts. This results from drastic cuts in private remuneration in the past two years. In any society, the civil service is a pillar of social stability. Public servants do not receive astronomical bonuses during a boom, but neither are they given the boot or drastic pay cuts when times are tough. In return, they have job security and predictable careers, while society benefits from having a valuable and stable civil service. That is not to say that pay levels in the two sectors should not be roughly in parallel. The Government's task now is to gauge the salary gap between them and decide how much longer civil service pay should be frozen. If the gap is large, a freeze lasting several years might be in order. But it would be unwise to bridge it in one go by ordering a sizeable cut in just one year.