Hong Kong Budget 2018-2019

Hong Kong payroll study calls for lowest pay rise for frontline civil servants since 2010  

Recommendations, which still need government approval, call for lowest earners to receive a 2.85 per cent pay rise while highest earners would get 4.06 per cent increase 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 11:29pm

Hong Kong’s frontline civil servants are set to receive the lowest pay rise in nearly 10 years, despite a record government surplus, if results of an annual study are adopted.

The government study, which was submitted to the Pay Trend Survey Committee on Wednesday, recommended pay increases between 2.84 and 4.51 per cent, depending on an employee’s pay scale. 

The highest earners would receive a 4.06 per cent pay increase, while the middle earners would see a 4.51 per cent rise and the lowest earners would get a 2.84 per cent rise – the lowest for frontline staff since 2010 when rises were 0.56 for the lowest and middle earners. Senior officers received a 1.6 per cent rise that year. 

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This year’s recommendations received mixed reviews from civil service unions, who asked for 4 to 5 per cent rises after the government announced a HK$148.9 billion (US$18.97 billion) surplus for the 2017-2018 financial year.

Wilfred Wong Kam-pui, chairman of the pay committee, described the recommendations as “fairly good” when compared with the private sector. He said he hoped civil servants would receive them in a “positive” manner.

The proposed rises for the 2018-19 financial year were derived from a survey of pay trends at 112 private companies, covering 157,000 employees over a 12-month period to April 1 this year. The recommendations discounted annual civil service pay increments for seniority.

Traditionally, the government would take the recommendation for middle-rank officers and apply it to lower earners. If they do the same this year, lower earners would be earmarked for the 4.51 per cent rise.

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Last year, the government raised the pay increases by at least 0.5 of a percentage point above the recommended levels – which were between 1.38 and 2.44 per cent – after an outcry by unions.

In 2015, two of the civil service associations declined to endorse a recommended rise of between 3.02 and 4.12 per cent. The government also eventually revised the offer to between 3.96 and 4.62 per cent.

Committee member Steven Wong Hung-lok, of the Senior Government Officers Association, which represents about 3,000 workers, said the recommendations were acceptable. 

But, fellow committee member Li Kwai-yin, of the 120,000-member Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association, said the proposed rise for the lowest earners was unfair and that her association would look into the study before making a formal proposal.

Both Steven Wong and Li urged for a review of the formula to take out or minimise the effect pay rises for seniority had on the study. 

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Another committee member Lam Wing-chung, of Government Employees Association, said the proposed pay rise level for frontline staff was “disappointing” and demanded a 5 per cent rise. 

Leung Chau-ting, of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, which has 10,000 members, demanded the government increase civil service pay by 4 to 5 per cent. 

“The pay rise for the frontline staff is just barely enough to offset inflation. It is not fair,” Leung said.

Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, the commerce sector legislator and Executive Councillor, declined to comment but said there was an established mechanism to follow. 

The committee is expected to meet again on May 24 to discuss the findings. If the survey is validated, the proposal will be submitted to the government. The Executive Council will then decide on the pay rise and its proposal will be voted on by the Legislative Council’s finance committee.

Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of AMAC Human Resources Consultants, said the civil servants should be “more than happy” with the proposals. “Compared with that in the private sector, which was about 3.5 per cent to 4 per cent, the proposed increases for civil servants can be said to be very generous.”

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A spokesman for the Civil Service Bureau defended the survey. 

“The pay trend survey is effective and credible. Over the years, it has provided objective and reliable data on the annual pay movements of organisations in different sectors,” he said in a statement.

The spokesman said the government would also take several factors into account, including “the state of Hong Kong’s economy” and “civil service morale” when determining pay rises.

There are about 170,000 civil servants in the city. In 2016-17, taxpayers paid HK$110.5 billion on staff-related expenditure on the civil service, up from HK$103.6 billion in 2015-16.