Secretary for Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee denied yesterday the government was taking the lead by cutting the starting salaries of civil servants with university degrees, saying the findings of a recent survey were only a reflection of market trends. Speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council's public service panel, unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said the recommendation by the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service to cut entry pay for civil servants with degrees by about HK$2,000 would result in 'depreciation' of the worth of university degrees. 'It would encourage the private sector to cut starting salaries for their newly recruited staff if the government takes the lead in reducing entry pay for civil servants,' he said. Tam Yiu-chung, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the survey, conducted from April 2008 to April last year, might lag changes in the economy. According to the survey, pay for university graduates recruited by the private sector during that period averaged HK$18,504 a month, compared with HK$21,880 for non-directorate-level civil service jobs that require university degrees. Last week the commission recommended cutting starting salaries for these civil servants by HK$2,045 to HK$19,835. If the recommendation is adopted, starting salaries for degree-holders in non-directorate posts would be just HK$1,000 higher than the monthly salary of HK$18,885 for jobs that require higher diplomas. Starting salaries for civil servants in the education grade would also be reduced by two pay points, or about HK$2,000. Current starting salaries range from HK$22,985 to HK$33,520. Yue said such surveys were needed to prevent a significant deviation of starting salaries for civil servants from their private sector counterparts, adding the findings reflected market trends. A one-month consultation would be held on the findings with civil service unions before a decision is made, Yue said. Ip Wai-ming, a legislator from the Federation of Trade Unions, said the recommendation to reduce entry pay would undermine the morale of civil servants.