The number of civil servants opting for voluntary retirement under a scheme to reduce obsolete grades has reached twice the offi cial target, according to a staff union. Yesterday was the deadline for submitting applications. Although the Civil Service Bureau said it had yet to determine the number, Federation of Civil Service Unions president Leung Chau-ting estimated the final figure could reach 7,000. 'This is much higher than expected. I thought only skilled personnel who had promising job opportunities in the private sector would apply. But I'm very surprised unskilled workers were also so eager,' Mr Leung said. He suggested the Government relax the scheme to make it free of quotas and selection criteria. 'It's not an easy decision [to apply for the scheme]. If they no longer want to work for the Government, what's the point of retaining them?' Mr Leung said. He also suggested a two-year period should be allowed for successful applicants to leave in phases to minimise the impact on operations. The response showed civil servants lacked confidence in the Government because of increasing work pressure and other cost-cutting measures, he said. 'No one knows whether you will be sacked tomorrow. Most think staying on is unwise as you have to share the workload of those who have left. Besides, public expectation and accountability are much higher,' he said. 'The Government should sit back and review what it has done to the civil service since the handover. What's been done has undermined our interests.' Drivers in the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were particularly keen to join the scheme, with 300 - nearly 20 per cent of the 1,400 drivers - applying, according to staff unions. Ko Pui-hung, of the Chinese Civil Servants' Association, said some ineligible drivers who were close to retirement had also tried their luck. With jobs being contracted out, he said, few wanted to stay on due to the lack of promotion prospects. Many police interpreters had also volunteered to go - with a 20 per cent application rate. Chan Cheung-yee, of the Model Scale One Staff Consultative Council, said the overall response had been good because the compensation was attractive. A bureau spokesman said the criteria in selecting who would be allowed to join the scheme would follow the guidelines spelled out by Secretary for Civil Service Joseph Wong Wing-ping. Mr Wong has said priority will be given to senior applicants. However, operational needs would also be considered, such as ensuring departments were left with sufficient management strength. The Government believes 70,000 posts across 59 grades are no longer needed, but so far it has only set aside $1.1 billion for about 3,500 workers to join the scheme. The obsolete posts include lift operators, clerical staff and general workmen. The Government has not ruled out seeking more funds if there is a strong response. Each will be given six to 20 months' salary in compensation. Professor Lau Siu-kai, associate director of Asia-Pacific studies at Chinese University, said the response was strong because civil servants no longer found their jobs attractive. However, he believed the operation of government departments would not be affected as the bureau would arrange for staff to leave in stages.