Having said it would accept a pay freeze instead of a pay cut, as is called for by the findings of the latest private sector Pay Trend Survey, the Chinese Civil Servants' Association has broken ranks with other unions by pushing for a pay rise. Against the backdrop of widespread pay cuts and dismissals in the private sector over the past two years and a big gap between the salaries of civil servants and private employees, the association's demand can only be described as stupid. Even as a negotiating tactic to head off a pay cut, the demand will fail to get public support. Worse, it will reinforce the perception held by many that civil servants are detached from real life because they are immune from the vagaries faced by ordinary citizens. Association chairman Peter Wong Hyo argued that a pay rise this year was justified because civil servants had not been awarded increases at rates comparable to those awarded in the private sector over the past 10 years. He may be right, but only because he focuses narrowly on the rates of increase and conveniently ignores a big gap between pay packages in the public and private sectors at all ranks. This gap has been widening in recent years. Although the Government has cut entry-level pay for new recruits, it has shied away from gauging the gap at other ranks. The latest development means it can no longer dodge the exercise, especially because the last such study was conducted as long ago as 1986. Unless and until the gap is bridged, it would be wrong to increase the salaries of civil servants at the same rates as in the private sector.