The largest civil service staff union yesterday called for a pay freeze for 160,000 civil servants, ahead of the annual adjustment negotiations next month, in what observers said could be a move to pre-empt any pay cut. The 100,000-strong Chinese Civil Servants' Association made the call even before results of the annual pay trend survey were published. The government will next month release findings on wage changes in the private sector. Pay adjustments for staff in government and government-funded organisations are based on the study, and unions usually make pay claims after trend figures are published. Li Kwai-yin, the association's deputy secretary general, said she was confident the study would reveal a trend of rising pay. But, she said, 'the impact brought by the global downturn and the swine flu has yet to be seen'. 'A pay freeze is just right in the current situation,' she said. Asked if the association would accept a pay cut if the report shows falling income, she would only say actions that were 'too radical' would affect the private sector. Leung Chau-ting, president of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, also called for a pay freeze. 'A pay rise or a pay cut will have a knock-on effect on the private sector and put the government in a dilemma,' he said. Edmond So Wai-chung, general manager of local headhunting company Besteam Personnel Consultancy, expects private-sector salaries to fall by 10 per cent this year. 'While the jobless rate continues to grow, there is always pressure to suppress wages further,' he said. Two disciplined services staff unions, however, preferred to decide on their pay claims after the release of pay trend figures. The Junior Police Officers' Association and the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Staff General Association said they were awaiting the release of the survey results. Political commentator James Sung Lap-kung said the call for a pay freeze was a politically wise move. While he believed civil servants were in line for a modest pay rise - thanks to the good economy in the first half of last year - he said the call for a pay freeze now could ease pressure for a pay cut in future if the economy continued to worsen. 'If next year's figures turn out to be negative, civil servants will have justification to demand only a pay freeze again,' he said. A spokesman for the Civil Service Bureau said any pay adjustment would - as was usual - depend on the economy, the government's fiscal position, morale in the civil service and staff pay claims. Last year, the legislature endorsed a HK$6.8 billion salary-increase package for the civil service's permanent staff, who were offered a pay rise of between 0.19 and 6.3 per cent.