Pay demands of Hong Kong civil servants are unrealistic
Unions are holding out for a 5 per cent increase across the board at a time when those in the private sector can expect far less through rises based on performance
Hong Kong civil servants are among the highest paid in the world. Yet they still won’t miss a chance to ask for more, as reflected in their demands for a bigger pay rise this year.
Oblivious to the fact that the offer of an up to 4.51 per cent rise already makes most in the private sector envious, if not enraged, staff unionists want a 5 per cent rise across the board.
It is a standing practice for the staff side to make counterproposals before the Executive Council makes a final decision on the annual pay adjustment.
As union leaders, they are expected to fight for the best interests of staff, but the demand does not reflect well on a bureaucracy that is seen by some as increasingly bloated and overpaid.
Startlingly, expenditure related to the 171,000 civil servants amounted to HK$116.4 billion in the 2017-18 financial year, up from HK$110.5 billion the previous year.
The offers of a 4.06 per cent rise for top and 4.51 per cent for the middle and lower bands are expected to cost taxpayers billions of dollars more in the coming year.
There are good reasons to reject the demand. For years, the government has largely offered pay rises according to the wage changes in the private sector.
While the method, which tracks the adjustments in about 100 firms annually, is subject to challenges from time to time, it is seen as the best tool for the civil service pay review.
The government is not expected to deviate from the private sector pay trend unless there are overriding reasons to do so.
The mechanism is meant to ensure that public sector pay rises will not outstrip those in the private sector. Civil servants have to justify why they deserve more than what their private sector counterparts get.
Giving the staff a fairer share of the economy in times of a hefty budget surplus, as suggested by a unionist, is not a reason. They risk losing touch with the rest of the community, who usually have to earn their pay rises with performance.
The concept of performance pay is, regrettably, still lacking in the civil service, even though it was recommended by a government task force as early as 2002. Meanwhile, we are constantly reminded of the maladministration and misspending identified by the Ombudsman and Audit Commission. The 5 per cent pay rise is a hard sell.