Civil service unions yesterday dampened hopes of an early solution ahead of crucial talks today with the government on how to settle the pay dispute this year. Some unionists claimed that it was impossible to agree on a new pay adjustment mechanism and to complete reviewing the pay levels for hundreds of grades within a year. A working group will reconvene this afternoon to discuss how to overhaul pay levels following criticisms from the private sector that civil servants have been overpaid. The annual exercise of surveying the pay adjustments in private firms to set civil service salaries has been suspended this year pending a review for an improved system. Representatives of the four civil service consultative councils are seeking to find common ground at a meeting ahead of the talks with civil service secretary Joseph Wong Wing-ping today. In a paper issued to the staff side, the Civil Service Bureau has outlined various adjustment mechanisms, including the annual pay trend survey, as factors in considering the salaries. But officials stopped short of announcing directions for reform. Referring to the pay-cut protest which attracted a turnout of more than 20,000 last summer, the Chinese Civil Servants' Association said the government should not rush to table proposals. 'We don't want any instant-noodle type of solutions, or else we'll face the same dispute,' said association deputy secretary general Li Kwai-yin. Federation of Civil Service Unions president Leung Chau-ting urged the government to consider staff morale and to proceed on the controversial issue with care. Last year, a civil service pay cut of between 1.58 and 4.42 per cent was introduced in October after a law was passed in July to provide the basis for the move. Executive Councillor James Tien Pei-chun has provoked criticism for suggesting that if civil service pay is cut again to help balance the budget, the cut should be backdated to the time the government decided the reduction was necessary.