Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 751
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1

Panel on Public Service

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 27 October 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin] other commitments
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong]

Public officers attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service

Items III and V

Mrs Philomena LEUNG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2 (Atg.)

Item IV

Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3

Mrs Mary SZETO
Director, Civil Service Training and Development Institute

Item V(a)

Mr TUNG Sing-kan

Mr FUNG Siu-ming
Vice Chairman

Mr CHING Kwok-sun
Vice Chairman

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

The next regular Panel meeting would be held on Monday, 24 November 1997 to discuss the following items :

  1. Review Board on representations relating to appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants; and

  2. Staff recognition proposals in trading fund departments

    (Post-meeting note : As the Administration is still seeking legal advice on a number of issues on the proposed Review Board, item (a) above has been deferred to the meeting in December 1997. On the advice of the Chairman, two additional items on " Transfer from agreement to local permanent and pensionable terms in the civil service " and " Review of school and leave passage arrangements for civil servants' respectively are added to the agenda for the meeting on 24 November 1997.)

II.Schedule of meetings for January to March 1998

2.Members agreed to the schedule of meetings for the period of January to March 1998 as follows :

26 January 1998
23 February 1998
23 March 1998

All meetings would be held at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building.

III.Review of civil service fringe benefits

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 478(01))

3.Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2 (Acting) (DS(CS)2)(Atg) briefed members on the PLC Paper, which outlined the categories of civil service conditions of service/fringe benefits and the recent changes made to civil service fringe benefits.

Salary advance

4.In response to the Chairman's enquiry, DS(CS)2(Atg) advised that the ceiling for salary advance under different provisions had been revised to take into account inflation over the years and to peg it to a specific pay point. Proposed appointment of native English speaking teachers with provision of housing benefits

5.Members enquired about the progress of the plan as announced in the Chief Executive's Policy Address to employ some 700 native English speaking teachers from abroad to teach in local secondary schools. Members pointed out that under the proposal , housing benefit/allowance would be offered to these teachers. Members were concerned that the provision of such housing benefit, which were not available to local teachers, would contradict the principles of the Common Terms of appointment and conditions of service (Common Terms) for new civil service appointments.

6.In response, Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS) said that the objective of the proposed scheme was to give effect to the Chief Executive's commitment to enhance the English language standard of local students. Details of the scheme, including the remuneration package for the expatriate English teachers, were being worked out by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) and the Civil Service Bureau (CSB). SCS advised that the vast majority of these teachers would not be appointed as civil servants. They would be employed by subsidized schools which at present constituted more than 90% of the total number of secondary schools. The number of native English speaking teachers who would be teaching in government schools would be small. SCS assured members that the Administration would implement the scheme with flexibility and in a fair and reasonable way.

7.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat said that under existing subvention policy, employees of government-funded organizations were not entitled to terms of employment and conditions of service which were more favourable than those for civil servants. Any proposal to provide expatriate teachers with additional benefits had to be fully justified. In his opinion, native English speaking teachers could be treated as special grade officers and be offered encashments, rather than housing benefits, as inducement for their appointment. Mrs Selina CHOW supported the Government's plan to offer these teachers with special terms of employment in order to attract them to come to Hong Kong, provided that no suitable teachers could be recruited locally.

8.Members opined that the CSB had an important role to play to ensure that any decision by the Government would not go against the spirit of the Common Terms. SCS advised that implementation of the scheme in question, which was part of a comprehensive programme to improve the education system in Hong Kong, fell within the policy area of EMB. Both EMB and CSB were working closely with a view to achieving the policy objectives as set out by the Chief Executive, without losing sight of the important rules and principles governing civil service appointments. SCS said that the implementation details, as soon as they were finalized, would be reported to the Provisional Legislative Council.Adm


9.SCS advised that the current policy relating to suspension of monthly pension for retired civil servants re-employed by the Government or certain public-funded organizations was being reviewed. He said that the staff side held the view that pension was earned by a civil servant during his/her service in the civil service and hence it should not be suspended, regardless of the nature of his/her employment after retirement. There was also feedback that the policy had placed public-funded organizations in a disadvantageous position in the recruitment of staff. The purpose of the current review was to evaluate whether the rationale of the policy, which was to avoid double benefits, was still appropriate in present day circumstances. The review would aim at striking a right balance between fair treatment for the retired officers and the careful and prudent use of public funds.

10.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat called for a change in policy. He said that the existing policy was unfair in that it was only restricted to employment in public-funded organizations but not to the private sector. The suspension requirement also led to undesirable wastage of expertise as civil servants would be discouraged from working in the public sector, even if they wanted to do so, after retirement. The Administration noted members' views. Leave and school passages

11.DS(CS)2(Atg) informed members that the proposal to delink the rates of leave and school passage allowance from approved air fares and revise them according to changes in the Package Tour Prices was expected to achieve cost saving. The Administration had consulted the Central Staff Consultative Councils and would put forward details of the proposals to the Provisional Legislative Council shortly.

Housing-related benefits

12.DS(CS)2 (Atg) advised that, as part of a review exercise on the mechanisms to adjust housing allowances, some of the minor housing-related benefits such as the furniture allowance and domestic appliances allowance would be looked into as to whether these allowances should be retained.

IV.Putonghua training for civil servants
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 478(02))

13.Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3 (DS(CS)3) took members through the paper, which set out the scope of Putonghua training activities undertaken by the Civil Service Training and Development Institute (CSTDI) and individual grades and departments to enable officers to operate effectively in Putonghua in their work. She said that on completion of each level of the standard courses and customised courses, most of the trainees were able to use Putonghua as a medium of communication to meet specific job-related needs. In spirit of greater delegation of authority to heads of departments, departments now had greater flexibility in deploying training resources. Furthermore, CSTDI would continue to closely monitor the provision of Putonghua training programmes and to assist departments to meet their requirements. CSTDI would make use of available resources to maintain an annual output of no less than 7 000 trainees.

14.In response to members' enquiries, DS(CS)3 advised that although different discipline grades incorporated Putonghua training in their induction training programmes at different times, customised courses were provided by CSTDI for the various disciplined services since 1994. About 83% of officers in the Administrative Officers grade had participated in Putonghua training courses at different levels. More than half of the Directorate Officers were able to converse in Putonghua.

15.In answer to a question by the Chairman, DS(CS)3 said that rather than a training course on Putonghua, the Tsinghua courses for senior civil servants primarily aimed at increasing the understanding of the Mainland and building up contacts between Chinese and Hong Kong Government officials. A certain level of proficiency in Putonghua was required of participants in the Tsinghua courses in order that they could reap the full advantage of the course.

V.Update on employment of temporary staff in the civil service

(a) Meeting with representatives from Government Electrical and Mechanical Works Supervisors, Craftsmen and Workmen Association (the Association)
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)478(03) - the Association's submission)

16.Mr FUNG Siu-ming elaborated on the points mentioned in the Association's submission. He said that members of the Association were disappointed at the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (E & MSD)'s move to appoint 25 apprentices, who had just completed training in early September, on agreement terms with effect from October 1997. The decision to appoint staff members on agreement terms was taken because of the department's uncertain future in operating as a trading fund department. According to the terms of the agreement, the staff concerned would receive, on completion of the agreement which was for a period of two and a half years, a gratuity at the rate of 15% of the total salary drawn during the agreement period. Mr FUNG pointed out that many civil servants on agreement terms, by contrast, received an end-of-contract gratuity at a rate of 25%. They included, among others, lifeguards and library assistants of the Provisional Urban Council (PUC) and the Provisional Regional Council (PRC) and works supervisors of the Housing Authority. These officers were comparable to the artisans grade officers in E & MSD in terms of salaries and conditions of service. The Association considered such discrepancy as grossly unfair and that to eliminate the unfairness, the Government should set a clear policy of standardizing the rate of gratuity payment for all agreement staff in the public sector. Mr FUNG cautioned that the decision to appoint officers in certain grades in E & MSD on agreement terms instead of permanent and pensionable (P & P) terms had dealt a serious blow to the confidence and morale of the staff members in the department.

17.Mr FUNG Siu-ming further advised that at present there were professional grade officers in E & MSD who were employed on agreement terms with a gratuity rate of 25%. In the past, artisans, who were the basic rank officers in the department, were appointed on P & P terms. Mr FUNG cited the example of the Post Office, which was also a trading fund department, where P & P posts were created and filled by staff employed on month-to-month terms. However, the Administration had failed to make any commitments to appoint agreement staff in E & MSD in P & P posts, without a clear prospect of a stable workload for the department.

18.In response, DS(CS)2(Atg) informed members that E & MSD had been changed to a trading fund department since 1996. With effect from August 1999, electrical and mechanical maintenance work for all Government departments, which had hitherto been done by E & MSD, would not necessarily be performed by E & MSD. This gave rise to an uncertain prospect as to the amount of work for the department and the need for it to exercise flexibility in appointing new staff. DS(CS)2 (Atg) said that when the apprentices were first appointed, it had been clearly made known to them that there was no binding obligation on the part of the Government to continue to employ them after they had served the period of apprenticeship, despite that in most cases apprentices were offered employment provided that they had successfully passed the required skill tests. DS(CS)2(Atg) added that existing officers in E & MSD on P & P terms would not be affected by the new appointments and new P & P posts would be created when circumstances justified.

19.As regards the rate of gratuity, DS(CS)2(Atg) said that it was normally set at the approximate pension on-cost value of the post. Other relevant factors such as the market conditions and recruitment and retention problems would also be considered. As these factors varied between grades and departments, the rates of gratuity could also be different. Concerning lifeguards and library assistants, DS(CS)2(Atg) said that the autonomy of PUC and PRC in finance and policy matters permitted the two Councils to set the rate of gratuity payable to the staff. Works supervisors on " contract " terms, on the other hand, were employed by the Housing Authority who were subject to different terms of employment and conditions of service.

20.Mr CHAN Wing-chan opined that the case of E & MSD could set an undesirable trend for the Government to appoint staff on temporary agreement terms rather than on P & P terms. Mr LEE Kai-ming said that the 25 officers in E & MSD who were offered employment on agreement terms had lost their four-year service in apprenticeship, which would have been recognized as part of a continuing service had the officers been appointed on P & P terms. This would affect their retirement benefits as well as other entitlements such as application for public housing. Mr LEE also pointed out that it was unfair and not practice of a good employer for the Government to set the gratuity based on supply and demand conditions in the labour market. He urged the Government to consider increasing the rate of gratuity to 25% for the officers in E & MSD.

21.The Administration explained that an officer undergoing training as an apprentice in a Government department was not employed on civil service terms. The period of apprenticeship could be reckoned as part of a pensionable service only if the officer was subsequently appointed in a P & P post. The Administration said that staff members of E & MSD were not treated unfairly, pointing out that the normal gratuity rate for similar technical grades was 15%. Other agreement officers such as Land Executives in the Lands Department and calligraphists in the Official Languages Agency etc. were also receiving a rate of 15%.

(b)Employment of temporary staff in the civil service(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 478(04))

22.DS(CS)2(Atg) briefed members on the information paper, which gave an update on the policy and current situation on the employment of temporary staff in the civil service. DS(CS)2(Atg) advised that the policy had not changed since the Administration last briefed the former Legislative Council Panel on Public Service on the subject in January 1997. The Administration had issued a revised circular which reiterated, in the main, the Government policy that the conditions of service for temporary staff should be in line with the provisions in the Employment Ordinance and the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, and specified clearly the circumstances under which temporary staff might be employed. The circular also reminded departments to review the need for temporary staff to see if they were still required or if other means of appointment of a more permanent nature, such as creation of posts, could be considered.

23.Members considered that temporary staff should only be employed to accommodate short term needs. They noted that the number of temporary staff employed in the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD) respectively was still on the increase since February 1997. Members enquired about the measures to reverse the trend. DS(CS)2(Atg) replied that a scheme of privatization and contracting-out of certain services of USD and RSD was in progress. Before the details were finalized, it was difficult to accurately assess the number of additional permanent posts in USD and RSD. This led to the continued employment of a substantial number of temporary staff in the two departments. In addition, the extension of the opening hours of libraries to 7 pm of the day since July 1997 also resulted in an increase in the number of temporary staff. DS(CS)2(Atg) said that there were a number of temporary staff employed by USD and RSD during the swimming season. The number of these staff would drop towards the end of the year, as many beaches and public swimming pools would have been closed by then.

24.With regard to temporary staff working full time for more than one year, DS(CS)2(Atg) said that departments had been asked to review the situation to see if permannet appointments should be offered.

25.In response to Mr LEE Kai-ming's enquiry, DS(CS)2(Atg) agreed to provide statistics on the number of newly created permanent posts in Radio Television Hong Kong which had been filled by temporary staff in the past year.Adm

VI.Close of meeting

26.The meeting ended at 12:50 pm

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
26 November 1997