Hong Kong civil service chief vows flexibility over layoffs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 12:00am

Hong Kong's civil service chief has pledged to take into account the impact on the economy when considering layoffs.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping also said the government would be flexible with individual departments if they could not meet the 10 per cent target cut to ease the budget deficit.

The assurance comes as the deadline for staff seeking voluntary retirement closes today.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has announced the second phase of the scheme to help slash the civil service by 10 per cent to 160,000 by 2006-07.

As the number of applicants is unlikely to meet the original estimate of 7,000 employees, Mr Wong has not ruled out layoffs, despite pledges by Mr Tung not to do so in his second five-year term.

The Legco public service panel yesterday heard that the number of civil service posts had shrunk by 1,800 over the past three months to 175,759 in March. About 8,500 staff members are due to reach retirement age over the next four years.

But Mr Wong said it was still unclear if all the posts vacated through normal retirement would be scrapped to help in the downsizing, saying it was necessary to keep certain posts filled.

He said the government would consider if layoffs would be necessary after analysing the manpower forecast submitted by individual departments by October.

'As a responsible government, we would have to look at the overall situation before saying what measures would be needed to reach the target. I cannot rule out any measures at this stage,'' he said.

But his remarks have angered lawmakers, who criticised the government for going back on its promise not to lay off workers.

Former Democrat Albert Chan Wai-yip asked: 'Are you saying Mr Tung is irresponsible to make that promise and your approach is the only responsible way?'

He warned that private companies would follow suit, aggravating unemployment.

Referring to the Jockey Club job fair during the weekend which attracted 48,000 hopefuls for 3,600 posts, Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said: 'Do you want to see those redundant civil servants joining the long queue at the job fair?'

Mr Wong conceded that civil service redundancies would have an impact on the economy.

'I believe that we will take into account the social and economic situation when making major decisions related to the civil service,' he said.

He said all departments would initially be required to submit manpower plans, but the government would be flexible in dealing with individual departments.