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3% pay cut for HK civil service to proceed
By Joseph Li and Alfons Chan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-06 11:18

The government will implement a scheduled 3 per cent reduction in civil service pay in January 2005, Hong Kong's Secretary for Civil Service Joseph Wong announced Sunday.

"After careful consideration and following legal advice to us, we have reached the decision to go ahead with the phase two pay cut in January next year," Wong told a media briefing in Hong Kong on Sunday.

"This is 100 per cent lawful according to our legal advice. Besides, the phase two pay cut arises from the '0-3-3' arrangement, which is a consensus between the government and the civil service associations after several rounds of negotiations," he said.

The "0-3-3" arrangement refers to a pay freeze last year, 3 per cent cut this year and another 3 per cent next year.

Civil service unions said they were not surprised by the government decision Sunday, though they had hoped that the pay cut would be shelved until the judgment from the Court of Final Appeal.

Stephen Wong, chairman of Government Disciplined Services General Union, said the "0-3-3" should be deemed illegal because the Court of Appeal had ruled on Monday that the salary reduction for the civil service is unconstitutional.

The Basic Law has stipulated that the civil servants' pay level should not be lower than that before July 1, 1997.

"According to the Court of Appeal ruling, the government has no legal basis to cut civil service pay.

"If the government goes ahead to cut pay, any civil servant can challenge the decision through the legal channel."

Felix Cheung, chairman of Hong Kong Civil Servants General Union, urged the government to respect the appellant verdict and act in accordance with the law.

"The government is unlawful and unreasonable in its conduct. I deeply regret its decision," he said.

Leung Chau-ting, chairman of Hong Kong Federation of Civil Service Unions, said it was wrong for the government to legislate the civil servant pay cut in the first place.

But he called on civil servants to abstain from drastic action and patiently wait for the ruling of the Court of Final Appeal.

"If the government loses the final appeal, it should, as a responsible government, know what to do by repaying us the deducted salaries."

But in the opinion of Benny Tai, deputy head of the University of Hong Kong's law faculty, the phase two pay cut should not be deemed as unlawful.

"The Court of Appeal judgment mainly dealt with the first pay cut legislation (in 2002), but the next 3 per cent cut is related to the second pay cut legislation," he said.

"Because the judgment targeted the first legislation, the second legislation has not been ruled unconstitutional."

Major political parties in the Legislative Council had different views over the matter.

Cheung Man-kwong, from the Democratic Party, said the pay cut legislation was unconstitutional even if some civil service unions signed their agreement.

He believes that the next 3 per cent pay cut should be suspended, pending the outcome of the Court of Final Appeal trial.

Barrister and legislator Kwong Chi-kin, from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said that on the basis of the Court of Appeal judgment, civil servants would have a good chance of winning if they took legal action against the phase two reduction.

But the Liberal Party's Howard Young said the government has reasons to implement the 3 per cent scheduled cut since it has been passed by the Legislative Council.

Public reaction

While the public generally supported the government's decision to press ahead with a 3 per cent pay cut for all civil servants next year, some criticized the move as against the rule of law principle.

"A 3 per cent pay cut is reasonable and a good cost-cutting measure for the administration. I think civil servants have been overpaid in the past, and have had the benefit of the 'iron rice-bowl' for long enough," said Mr Wong, a taxi driver.

Mr Leung, a shop owner, also supported the pay cut.

"I think a 3 per cent pay cut is acceptable, especially when you compare it with employees working in companies that have reduced their benefits and froze salaries in the last few years. It is also a way for the government to balance its budget," he said.

But a businessman surnamed Chan thinks differently.

"The government should not press ahead with measures when they are ruled by courts as being unlawful. It is neglecting our livelihoods, and the benefit of citizens to achieve its means.

"I think the administration should reconsider its decision and its wider implications on society," he said.

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