Expats set decision deadline

EXPATRIATE civil servants yesterday warned they would take the Government to court if there was no decision on four colleagues' applications to switch to local terms within two weeks.

Association of Expatriate Civil Servants president Royston Griffey yesterday met the acting Secretary for the Civil Service, Stuart Harbinson, to discuss the applications.

The four officers' contracts expire within two weeks.

''No decision has been made so far. That disappoints us,'' he said after the meeting.

''It's always very stressful and anxious for the individual officer waiting day after day, week after week for a decision on whether he is going to have a new contract or not,'' he said.

Mr Harbinson gave assurances the Government would make a decision on one case within two days and the remaining cases in about a week, he said.

The association would decide at its annual general meeting on November 18 whether the affected officers should prosecute the Government.

''We have to regard that as our deadline,'' Mr Griffey said.

He said the association would take their cases to court if the Government continued to unreasonably reject officers' applications to change to local terms.

''If the decision turned out to be favourable in these cases by that time, naturally we wouldn't be so anxious to go to court,'' he said.

Mr Griffey warned that the Government should not repeatedly reject qualified applicants' bids to change to local terms.

He said that in the three months since the Government announced that expatriate contract officers could switch to local terms, none of the 100 applications submitted had been approved.

''Four cases have been rejected and one has been withdrawn. The other 95 cases are still under consideration.

''There's 95 applications in. If the Government are only going to approve one or two applications as a token gesture, we will go straight to court,'' he said.

Mr Griffey said some of the affected officers were determined to sue the Government if their applications were rejected.

He conceded that the association had not prosecuted the Government so far because it was hard to find a plaintiff who was determined to stay in Hong Kong to sue the Government.

''We need a plaintiff who is determined to stick it out and continue with the fight,'' he said.

Most officers who left Hong Kong after failing to get their contract renewed did not want to prosecute the Government, he said.

''It's very difficult to carry on with the case say 10,000 kilometres away.'' The association passed a resolution last month allowing the president to initiate legal action against the Government whenever he considered it appropriate to do so.

The Government announced in July that qualified overseas contract officers would be allowed to extend their existing contracts once under local contract terms. The decision came after the Government conceded that its localisation policy was in breach of the Bill of Rights.

The policy switch was strongly criticised by local civil servants and legislators.

A bill to freeze the policy was tabled in the Legislative Council on Wednesday and is expected to be passed within a couple of weeks.