The Government might breach the law and face a court challenge if it cut civil servants' pay, legal advice has shown. Despite pay cuts in the private sector, the Civil Service Bureau said it would be risky to follow the pay-trend survey results to cut government pay. The bureau is understood to have considered a wage cut after an undisclosed political party put forward the idea of freezing pay this year and delaying the cut to the next pay adjustment. But legal advice had shown such action might be illegal and result in lawsuits, a government spokesman said. Under the employment legislation, employers can only cut wages with employees' agreement and staff should be allowed to choose whether to leave if they refused the cut. The government spokesman said although the administration was not bound by the ordinance, as a good employer, it should follow the spirit of the law. But he said there was no mechanism for civil servants to choose whether to stay or quit. Secretary for Civil Service Lam Woon-kwong said yesterday the decision on a freeze by the Executive Council had taken into account improved public sector efficiency. 'Exco has also taken into consideration the fact that the civil service has over the past year done quite a lot of things to improve its productivity . . . including the gradual implementation of the civil service reform,' he said. The council is understood to have considered the legal advice when deciding on the freeze. But the bureau stressed the advice was not the main reason against a pay cut. The government spokesman said the decision to freeze pay instead of introducing a cut would be accepted by the business community and the public. But Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun, who also represents the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in the Legislative Council, said it was unfair to spare civil servants while private sector employees were hit by cuts. The bureau admitted taxpayers could have been saved $1.76 billion if pay were cut by 0.41 to 1.97 per cent as suggested by the pay trend survey. But the spokesman argued that savings from a wide range of cost-cutting initiatives and the civil service reform would outweigh this amount. Senior Non-Expatriate Officers Association chairman Leung Chi-chiu said the pay cuts in the private sector were mainly due to cuts in bonuses. 'We civil servants have no bonus or double pay. The negative pay trend is very small,' he said. 'The economy begins to pick up again and the Government has an unexpected budget surplus. We don't think it's time to take such drastic measures on the civil service.'