Hong Kong civil servants will not get a pay rise for the first time in many years, and rightly so. Instead of raising salaries by up to 2 per cent according to an annual pay trend survey, the Executive Council has made a rare departure from convention and imposed a freeze on the 190,000-strong team. With most workers struggling to keep their jobs, and the economy and the government’s coffers shrinking drastically, the decision is reasonable. The standing policy is to consider a basket of factors, such as the state of the economy and the government’s fiscal position, before making an offer. In reality, the final decision seldom deviates from the survey that tracks pay adjustments in the private sector during the year. But the need to consider every factor has become all the more relevant this year. The coronavirus pandemic pushed the jobless figure to a decade high of 5.2 per cent, while the economy shrank by 8.9 per cent in the first quarter. Government relief measures are expected to raise the budget deficit to a historic HK$280 billion. Hong Kong civil servants will not get pay rise for first time in 11 years Our government employees are among the best paid in the world. Before the onslaught of the social unrest and the epidemic, they had followed the market to get pay rises for years. They are also immune to sackings and other financial woes in times of adversity. Now it is only fair for the government and its employees to be seen to stand with the community at this difficult time. Indeed, the backlash to a pay rise, however modest, would have been huge. While others have lost their jobs or suffered pay cuts, the freeze for civil servants is the first in 11 years. They are arguably just foregoing a small rise rather than taking cuts to share the pain, as in the case of ministers, but it sends out the right message. Unlike some staff groups that insist on following survey findings to win pay rises, the Chinese Civil Servants’ Association, the largest staff union, has sensibly called for a freeze. This helps ease the pressure on the legislature where wrangling over funding approval has become a protracted and politicised process in recent years. The need for a government pay cut next year cannot be ruled out as economic woes deepen. By giving up a modest rise this year, there is a case to spare civil servants from any cuts to come.