The civil service figure is a third less than that estimated The voluntary retirement scheme launched by the Hong Kong government as a cost-cutting measure has only attracted 4,000 applicants, more than a third less than the figure officials had estimated when applying for funding. Secretary for the Civil Service Joseph Wong Wing-ping, speaking on the closing date of the scheme, said the government would consider whether to take further action in order to cut the 176,000 staff establishment by 10 per cent by 2006-07. The scheme's funding was sufficient to cover 7,000 staff taking early retirement when the government applied to the legislature earlier this year. But Mr Wong denied that the administration had set any target for the scheme. 'Because it is a voluntary retirement scheme, it is not possible to set a target,' he said. He said the figure from last weekend had shown only 4,000 staff had applied. The final figures would be published later, he said. In the past two weeks, both Mr Wong and Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa have not ruled out sacking civil servants as a last resort to achieve the cost-cutting target. Thirty civil servants and workers marched to the government headquarters yesterday to protest against job insecurity with the prospect of wage cuts and layoffs caused by the Sars outbreak. The protesters demanded the government set up a relief fund for those made unemployed. More than 10 civil servants, who had been given the choice of joining the voluntary cash-for-retirement scheme, asked Mr Tung to repeat his vow of no layoffs. Nan Yui-kwong, principal technical officer at the Housing Department, said public confidence in the economic revival would be shaken by civil service job cuts. He said morale among government staff had declined drastically after Mr Wong said the layoff option remained open. 'We are not here to antagonise the government. The chief executive should engage in negotiations with staff,' said Mr Nan.