Civil servants have called for a pay rise as early as next year, their first push for an increase in five years. One union chief suggested the government award a modest pay rise to boost morale among the 160,000 civil servants following the Federation of Employers' recommendation last week that bosses award pay rises of up to 2.5 per cent. Civil servants have already endured several pay freezes and reductions because of the multibillion-dollar budget deficit in recent years. Their last pay rise - ranging from 2.38 per cent to 4.99 per cent - was awarded in 2001. Consultants commissioned by the government are collecting pay figures from about 100 firms to check whether the government has paid higher salaries than the private sector for similar jobs. Unionists will be briefed on the progress of the pay-level review at a meeting set for October 31. Regardless of the findings, civil servants will not see further pay cuts. The government has said it would continue the wage freeze until any pay gap with the private sector levels out. But senior Government Officers Association chairman Poon Wai-ming said the government could still award modest pay rises if a pay gap existed. 'We can spread [narrowing] the pay difference over a longer period. In the meantime, we can offer a modest pay rise to boost staff morale. We can make up the difference later,' he said. Mr Poon said the government was already losing professional grade officers as wages in the private sector picked up again. He believed public opposition to civil service pay rises was easing as the economy improved. But Federation of Civil Service Unions president Leung Chau-ting believed a pay rise next year was out of the question. 'I am not optimistic at all. It would be very good news if we could get a pay rise by 2008.' He hoped the pay gap with the private sector would not be too significant, adding the private sector would continue to put pressure on public-sector pay rises. Pay reductions of 1.58 to 4.42 per cent were imposed in 2002, followed by a freeze in 2003 and 3 per cent cut in both 2004 and last year.