英文

Editorial : The Pay Trend Survey

【明報專訊】The results of the annual Pay Trend Survey (PTS) have been published. If the government acts in accordance with the results, civil servants at all levels will have a pay cut. Civil servants' associations, however, argue that salary freezes will be sufficient. The major reason they have cited is that the government did not give civil servants a pay rise last year according to the survey results. They maintain that their salaries should not be cut, but be maintained at the same levels this year (which, they argue, will merely "offset" the loss of last year's unmaterialised pay rise) in order to preserve the "relative stability" of the rates of remuneration of the civil service. The government has been in staggeringly huge deficits over the past two years, and its Operating Account is expected to run a deficit of tens of billions of dollars yearly in the next four years. When handling civil servants' salary payments, the authorities must take into account the need to cut expenditure.

The results of a PTS are "lagging indicators", since they describe the salary changes over the previous year. In normal years, these results are not problematic. However, in the event of a sudden economic crisis, they might not be able to reflect the trends of the labour market accurately. Hong Kong experienced the anti-amendment storm starting in the summer of 2019 and a pandemic last year. Amid economic hardships, layoffs and pay cuts have become a common occurrence. However, if the PTS conducted in May last year had been followed, civil servants at high, middle and low levels would theoretically have been entitled to pay rises of 1.15% to 1.98%. As civil servants who had not reached the maximum salary point could still move up the salary scale by one point every year, some civil servants could have enjoyed further pay rises theoretically. However, there was a chorus of views in society that civil servants should ride out the hard times with citizens, and the government agreed to a salary freeze ultimately. In response to pressure from the public, some civil servants' associations proposed a so-called "3+3" plan, under which civil servants would have a salary freeze for three consecutive years on three conditions including a two-year suspension of the PTS afterwards and pay rises after economic recovery as compensation. However, the plan was not accepted in the end.

One year has passed and the results of the new year's PTS have been released. Compared with private organisations, the net pay trend indicators are -2.04%, -0.54% and -0.68% respectively for high-, middle- and low-level civil servants after the deduction of the percentage points of the payroll cost of increments (from the gross pay trend indicators). Civil service groups have called on the government to maintain the salary freeze. Some have even dredged up the government's refusal to accept the "3+3" plan, questioning whether the government would listen to opinions. To be honest, the "3+3" plan contained a lot of selfish calculations. There are two obvious examples. First, civil servants' associations believed that the government had a responsibility to give them a pay rise in accordance with the survey results, and the salary freeze was an act of unfairness to them that must be redressed. Second, as the impact of the pandemic on the economy might be long-lasting, if PTSs were conducted again, the results might be negative. Suspending the survey would have meant that they would not have a pay cut that the employees of private organisations would have to face. In short, the conditions that were attached in the plan would, in essence, have made them the winners in all circumstances, as they would have pay rises but no pay cuts. The response of civil servants' associations yesterday (May 18) to the results of the pay survey was consistent with this mindset.

Of the 180,000 civil servants, those low down in the hierarchy are not very well paid, so a pay freeze rather than a pay cut for them can still be considered. However, for those receiving high salaries punctually, it is not unfair to reduce their salaries as appropriate in accordance with the results of the PTS. The government can spend the money that is saved on the payment of civil service salaries on relieving people's hardships. If the economic rebound in the second half of the year continues and the private sector recovers across the board, the public will find it fair to see that civil servants are given a pay rise next year.

明報社評2021.05.19:公僕薪酬可加亦可減 財赤嚴重政府應節流

一年一度的薪酬趨勢調查出爐,若按調查結果,各級公僕都要減薪,公務員工會認為凍薪已足夠,一大理據是去年政府未按調查結果給公務員加薪,現在不減薪是「抵消」去年無加人工,維持公務員薪酬水平「相對穩定」,云云。這兩年政府財赤驚人,未來4年經營帳目預料年年見紅數百億元,當局處理公僕薪酬,必須考慮節流需要。

薪酬調查結果屬「滯後數據」,描述的是之前一年薪酬變化,正常年頭問題不大,萬一遇上突發危機經濟暴挫,便無法準確反映勞動市場趨勢。2019年夏天以來,香港先有反修例風暴,去年又有疫情,經濟困頓,裁員減薪成風,可是若按去年5月的薪酬調查,高中低三層公務員,理論上仍可加薪1.15%至1.98%不等,鑑於未到頂薪點的公務員每年仍可遞增一個薪級點,部分公務員薪酬調整理論上還可再多一些。輿論紛紛要求公僕與民共渡時艱,最後政府同意凍薪。因應民情壓力,當時有公務員團體提出所謂「3+3」方案,即公僕連續3年凍薪,但有3項附帶條件,包括暫停之後兩年的薪酬趨勢調查,以及復蘇後「補回」加薪,惟方案最終未獲接納。

一年過去,新一年的薪酬調查結果出爐,比照私人機構情况,高中低層公務員扣除遞增薪額開支比率後,薪酬趨勢淨指標分別為-2.04%、-0.54%及-0.68%。公務員團體呼籲政府維持凍薪,更有人重提政府拒納「3+3」方案一事,質疑當局不聽意見。平情而論,「3+3」方案本身就隱含了很多私心盤算,其中有兩點最為突出,一是公務員團體認為依調查結果加薪是應分,凍薪是「虧欠」了他們,一定要追回;二是疫情打擊經濟,可能持續甚久,再做薪酬調查,結果很可能是負數,暫停做調查,等於毋須跟隨私人機構減薪。簡言之,方案開列的條件,本質就是輸打贏要,只許加薪不得減薪。昨天公務員團體對薪酬調查結果的反應,其實如出一轍。

18萬公務員團隊,低層員工薪酬不算豐厚,凍薪不減薪,尚且值得考慮,可是對於薪高糧準的一群,參考薪酬調查結果適度減薪,並不為過,政府可以將省下來的資源,用在利民紓困之上。倘若下半年經濟反彈持續,私營部門全面復蘇,明年再給公務員加薪,市民也會覺得公道。

■Glossary

生字

redress : to correct sth that is unfair or wrong

consistent with sth : in agreement with sth; not contradicting sth

across the board : affecting everyone or everything in a situation or organisation

上 / 下一篇新聞