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Members of the Executive Council have raised concerns about a suggested record pay rise for senior civil servants. Photo: Nora Tam

Top advisers to Hong Kong’s leader express shock over proposal senior civil servants receive record 7.26 per cent pay rise

  • Executive councillor Regina Ip says residents will find proposal hard to accept as more than 200,000 people had lost their jobs or were underemployed
  • Decision could be left up to next government, as another top adviser says matter unlikely to be discussed by current Executive Council before term ends on June 30

Several top advisers to Hong Kong’s leader have expressed shock over a suggestion senior civil servants receive a pay increase as high as 7.26 per cent, which would be a record.

One Executive Council member on Saturday said the decision over the size of the salary bump could be left to the next government under incoming leader John Lee Ka-chiu, as the matter might not be discussed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s team before her term ended on June 30.

The latest pay trend survey, based on remuneration levels at private companies and made public on Wednesday, suggested government employees in the lower, middle and upper salary bands could get increases of 2.04 per cent, 4.55 per cent and 7.26 per cent, respectively.

If approved, the increase would represent the biggest pay rise for senior civil servants since Hong Kong was transfered from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong civil servants may get record 7.26 per cent pay bump

A permanent secretary in a policy bureau currently receives HK$295,150 (US$37,608) per month, and under the proposed bump, the amount would rise to HK$316,577.

At least four executive councillors who spoke to the Post suggested the pay increment be revised downward, with another two saying the proposed raise was high but further details needed to be studied before they could make a decision.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who is part of Lam’s de facto cabinet, said she was “shocked” by the suggested raise and believed it would be hard for residents to accept as currently more than 200,000 people had lost their jobs or were underemployed.

Ip added that she personally objected to this year’s proposed bump for senior civil servants.

“It would be more acceptable if the increment was just similar to the inflation rate,” she said. “Apart from the pay trend report, we will also take into account the economic situation, how much money can the government afford, the inflation rate, the morale of civil servants, as well as the demands of staff representatives.”

Veteran lawmaker and executive councillor Regina Ip. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

The government annually invites more than 100 private companies across different sectors to track their salary adjustments over a 12-month period starting from April.

The results from the study are then used to help determine any potential increase in salaries for the city’s roughly 180,000-strong civil service. The proposals are subject to approval by the Executive Council and the legislature.

Executive councillor Ip Kwok-him said he found it difficult to accept the current proposal but stopped short of suggesting any alternatives.

He said the study was conducted when “the pandemic situation was improving”, noting the trend had led to a “better economic situation”.

“But now despite many people being unemployed or underemployed, civil servants have not been laid off,” he said. “This means the report may not accurately reflect Hong Kong’s current situation and may make the public think the pay rise is unrealistic.”

Fellow councillors Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said they also had several concerns regarding the proposed salary increases.

“I think it is acceptable to give junior civil servants a 2 per cent salary increase, but a 7 per cent raise for senior ones is unproportionate. As Hong Kong’s economy is currently not very good, they should be in the same boat with other residents,” Tong said.

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Cheung said the general public would find it hard to accept such a high increase in the salaries of civil servants.

He added that he believed the proposal might not be discussed by Exco during the remaining two months of Lam’s leadership term, leaving the matter to be decided by the next administration.

But Cheung also said he was worried civil servants might choose to resign if the government did not approve the wage increases suggested by the study, which reflected salary levels across the private sector.

Dr Lam Ching-choi, who also serves on the council, said the proposed pay rise for senior staff was high, but he wanted to review the study in detail before making a decision.

He also said it was difficult to retain and recruit senior civil servants amid a recent emigration wave, which could have driven up salaries among top-ranking employees in the private sector.

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Executive councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun described the proposed pay increment for the senior staff as “strange”, but acknowledged that salaries for government employees had been frozen for two years.

Law also reiterated remarks from Lam Ching-choi, saying she believed the recent emigration had contributed to the private sector boosting wages to retain staff and affected the recommendations made by the study.

The former permanent secretary for education and manpower noted: “This factor does not happen in the government”. She said that if the study confirmed her views, the proposed wage increases for civil servants should be amended.

The survey could have also featured salary data from many financial companies, which were less negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Law said.