Local civil servants to raise funds for lawsuit

LOCAL civil servants will be ready to sue the Government in two weeks' time for discrimination in allowing expatriates to switch to local terms.

Representatives of 16 staff associations, which claimed to have more than 120,000 members, last night decided to set up a ''Localisation Fund''.

They were confident of getting millions of dollars in donations within a fortnight.

Senior Non-Expatriate Officers' Association (SNEOA) chairman John Luk Woon-cheung said the writ would be served on the Government once the money was ready.

Mr Luk said if every one of the 100,000 members of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association each donated $10, they would raise $1 million. If all of the 5,000 members of the SNEOA gave $200, they would have another $1 million.

Forms will be distributed to all civil servants for them to pledge an amount and to express their support for the action.

''We don't anticipate the court case to be too costly but we need to have a fund to sustain it since it may last for some time,'' Mr Luk said.

He said they had several ways of challenging the Government.

One way was to accuse it of violating the Bill of Rights by giving different benefits to locals and expatriates doing similar jobs.

''We have put up with the differentials in the past since the Government promised to implement the localisation policy, giving us the hope that the differential would gradually disappear as contract overseas officers were replaced by locals,'' Mr Luk said.

''But the new policy has shattered this hope. We are forced to use the Bill of Rights to sue the Government for discriminating against us for so long.'' Mr Luk said legal advice had indicated that they had a good chance of winning the court case.

He was confident that they had stronger grounds than the expatriate civil servants who threatened legal action before the announcement of the new policy.

The Government has said it introduced the new policy to allow expatriates to switch to local terms because it had a high chance of losing that threatened court case.

Mr Luk said they could also sue the Government for destroying certain local officers' legitimate expectations for promotion.

Several cases, including those from the Buildings and Lands Department and the Legal Department, have been prepared.

In a joint statement, the 16 staff associations condemned the Government for treating the ''privileges'' afforded overseas civil servants as their ''human rights''.

They said the new policy had undermined the morale of locals and disrupted the stability of the civil service.

They demanded the new policy be terminated immediately.

The acting Governor, Sir David Ford, yesterday said it should not be assumed that expatriate officers who applied for new contracts on local terms would be granted them as a matter of course.

''Every case will be considered on its merit. We will look at the merits of the officer concerned,'' Sir David said.

Provisions in the Basic Law would also be a key factor in deciding whether expatriate officers should be allowed to switch to local terms, he added.

Sir David also stressed that the new policy was temporary and would affect only 10 out of about 70 departments.

He urged local civil servants against resorting to industrial action.

He also denied that the new policy would affect the pace of localisation.

''We are committed to localisation,'' he said.

The 16 local civil servants' associations also plan to delegate authority to the Local Crown Counsel Association to put a private member's bill to the Legislative Council to stop the Government from implementing the policy.

A spokesman said they would contact the panel convenor, Tam Yiu-chung, today to present the first draft of the bill they had prepared.

He said the private member's bill did not require the approval of the Governor before being introduced because there were no financial implications.

''Legco members can pass the three readings of the bill in one day if they consider the issue as too important to wait any longer,'' the spokesman said.

It is expected that a Legco in-house meeting next month will discuss how, and by whom, the bill will be introduced.

Mr Luk said they were confident they had sufficient support in Legco.

He said Mr Tam was willing to introduce the bill.

Mr Luk said they would also launch a signature campaign to show the Governor, Chris Patten, the extent of discontent among local civil servants.

At last night's meeting, other forms of action such as rallies were also considered but details have yet to be worked out.

However, Mr Luk said they had not considered a strike.

''We think legal action is effective enough to press the Government to reverse its policy. There is no point in thousands of us taking to the streets to make the public aware of our dissatisfaction,'' he said.