A pay level survey is the best medicine for Hong Kong's public hospital doctors
Public doctors' demand for a 3 per cent rise in line with that for senior civil servants seems to have been resolved for now. But they have raised serious issues about how we as a society should reward those who work in the public sector.
It boggles the mind why senior civil servants think they should be paid private-sector salaries. Yet, that is exactly what the Civil Service Pay Level Survey is designed to do. It is basically a sham which senior civil servants exploit to pay themselves extras in addition to the high salaries they already enjoy, even when compared to many private-sector jobs.
The survey makes no sense because you are comparing apples with oranges - private jobs with government jobs. But such a survey would make sense if applied to public doctors. Yet, no such survey or system exists. It should. That's what former civil service secretary Joseph Wong Wing-ping has sensibly proposed.
You are comparing apples with apples between doctors in the private and public sectors. They do the same or similar things, but their pay and perks are vastly out of sync.
That is in fact the main reason why the public health sector suffers chronic manpower shortage as doctors leave for the far more lucrative private sector.
The annual turnover rate for public hospital doctors is 4.2 per cent. The public sector, which treats 90 per cent of local patients but employs only 40 per cent of the city's doctors, is short of about 300 doctors, as many opt to make more money and work fewer hours in private practice.
What keeps many talented doctors in the public service is that in Hong Kong, it is the only sure path to train in a medical speciality. But once that is achieved, a highly rewarding private practice beckons.
Meanwhile, about 100 doctors are among 2,500 Hospital Authority staff due to retire in the next two years. They also include 344 nurses and large numbers of other medical and support staff.
To halt the wastage, it makes sense to reference public doctors' pay with those in private practice.
The government and the Hospital Authority will never be able to match the high earnings of private doctors. But a reference survey will help make sure the pay gulf is not so wide that the private sector proves irresistible.