Executive Councillor James Tien Pei-chun has provoked criticism for suggesting that if civil service pay is slashed to help balance the budget, the cut should be backdated to the time the government decided the reduction was necessary. The Liberal Party chairman yesterday said that when civil servants were awarded pay rises in the past, the money was backdated, therefore the same rules should apply for pay cuts. In previous years, the government has decided on the pay adjustment for civil servants in about June. By July, the Legco endorsed the extra funding, and the adjustment - usually a pay rise - was implemented and backdated to April. But Mr Tien's comments drew fire from unions, which said he should 'shut up' before the government reached a decision on the issue. Last year, a pay cut of between 1.58 and 4.42 per cent was made effective from October after a law was passed in July to provide the legal basis for the move. Speaking on Metro Radio, Mr Tien suggested a pay cut should be considered to reduce the $70 billion deficit. He said a pay review should be made to find out the salary differences between civil servants and their private-sector counterparts. A survey by the party early last year found civil service pay was 30 per cent to 50 per cent higher than in the private sector. Mr Tien said any pay cut should be implemented retrospectively because that would be 'fair'. 'Why are pay rises only, but not pay cuts, implemented with retrospective effect?' he said. But Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, disagreed with the imposition of retrospective pay cuts. 'It is not an annual pay adjustment but a pay level review,' he said. 'Mr Tien, as an Executive Councillor who is empowered to make a decision, should shut up and not make any comment before any collective decision is reached.' Cheung Kwok-biu, chairman of the Hong Kong Civil Servants' General Union, echoed Mr Leung's view. 'We have not worked out the mechanism yet. Any pay adjustment should be handled according to the mechanism and the law,' he said. Mr Tien also suggested removing the property rates concession and lifting the suspension of water tariffs to alleviate the deficit. The party chief said he hoped Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa would float deficit-cutting measures in the first policy address of his second term, due to be released on Wednesday. He also suggested the creation of another immigration category to allow mainland talent to settle in Hong Kong. 'Amid the downturn of the economy, there is a flow of capital and talent towards the mainland. We should devise a points system to allow mainland talent and capital to flow into Hong Kong,' he said.