Civil service losing its allure in Hong Kong as resignation rate rises

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 20 Apr 2016

Overall unemployment is low but government has 7,000 vacancies to fill

A rise in resignations from civil service jobs is causing concern in Hong Kong. Almost one-third of the 900 people who resigned last year recently took jobs in the private sector instead, an increase in the resignation rate from 0.4 per cent in 2010-11 to 0.55 per cent in 2014-15.
The civil service is the biggest employer in Hong Kong, with more than 160,000 staff for a population of around 7 million. That compares to 143,000 civil servants in Singapore, a city of about five million, where the public sector has grown at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent per year for the last decade.
Hong Kong’s Civil Service Bureau has set up an expert panel to suggest improvements to its recruitment process, but in the meantime the government is being pushed to find the reasons behind the rising numbers of resignations in what has long been considered the city’s best employer.
Despite recent layoffs in tourism-related sectors, Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at just 3.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, up just 0.1 per cent from the previous eight quarters. But the civil service is currently seeking to fill about 7,000 vacancies. Staff shortages in certain departments range from eight to 10 per cent, according to figures provided by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Clement Cheung Wan-ching.
Cheung says work pressure and working conditions may have encouraged the latest spate of resignations. In July 2015, pay for the top earners in the civil service increased by 3.96 per cent and by 4.62 per cent for low and mid-level officials. The rises were 0.5 per cent above the level recommended by a survey on private sector pay trends that usually serves as the benchmark for civil service pay rises. The secretary for the civil service at the time said the reasons for the additional pay hike was “to boost morale.”
An increase in the number of government social and poverty alleviation projects in recent years, coupled with rising numbers of retirees, has contributed to heavier workloads and lower morale. An average of 4,200 civil servants retire each year and the number is expected to reach 7,000 per year by 2023. In response, the government has raised the retirement age by five years. Since June 1, 2015, the retirement age for new recruits is 65 for general civil servants, up from 60, and 60 for those in the disciplined services including police, up from 55.
Suggestions that the sector offers less competitive pay than the private sector were rejected by the government. The starting salary for new recruits is HK$25,505, which is 15 per cent more than the private sector equivalent, but the private sector typically offers faster promotion and more generous salary rises, according to the Standing Committee on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service.