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LCQ5: Employment of Non-Civil Service Contract staff

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Paul Tang, in the Legislative Council today (February 6):


     As at June 30 last year, various policy bureaux and departments of the Government employed a total of 14 535 full-time non-civil service contract (NCSC) staff to meet operational needs or cope with time-limited or seasonal demand for services and, among them, 4 741 had been employed for five years or more.  At a public hearing conducted by a panel of this Council held on the 21st of last month, a number of NCSC staff deputations pointed out that some NCSC staff had been employed for more than a decade or even over two decades, and NCSC staff were also facing a number of problems, including being paid differently while doing the same work as civil servants', some NCSC postmen being required to travel to and from the airport to work but not given any travel allowances or overtime compensations, and some NCSC staff of the Department of Health being assigned to carry out frontline quarantine work without being given uniforms, etc.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current number of NCSC staff, broken down by duration of employment (i.e. five to seven years, over seven years to 10 years, over 10 to 15 years, and over 15 years) and the policy bureau or department employing the NCSC staff; of the current number of NCSC staff, broken down by cumulative duration of employment last year (i.e. three months or less, over three months to six months, over six months to 11 months, and over 11 months) and the policy bureau or department employing the NCSC staff;

(b) whether the authorities will expeditiously review and examine afresh the issue of re-appointing those NCSC staff who have relatively long service years and whose service is needed on a long-term basis as civil servants; if they will not, of the reasons for that; whether the authorities will consider introducing a mechanism for NCSC staff's salary increments based on years of service, in order to boost their morale and retain talents; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) of the authorities' specific solutions to the various problems relayed by NCSC staff deputations; whether the authorities will accede to the demands of the deputations by according priority to employing NCSC staff of the relevant positions as civil servants when implementing plans to convert such NCSC positions to civil servant posts, as well as allowing those NCSC staff who have not been offered the civil servant posts to be transferred to other NCSC positions; if they will not, of the reasons for that?



     The NCSC Staff Scheme, introduced in 1999, aims at providing Heads of Departments (HoDs) with a flexible means of employment, so that Bureaux/Departments (B/Ds) can respond more promptly to changing operational and service needs which may be time-limited, seasonal, or subject to market fluctuations; or which require staff to work less than the conditioned hours required of civil servants; or which require tapping the latest expertise in a particular area; or where the mode of delivery of some public services is under review or likely to be changed.  It is not appropriate to create civil service posts to cover these specific service needs as they are not of a permanent nature and in some cases, there are no comparable civil service grades performing the required tasks.

     Regarding part (a) of the question, it has nearly been 14 years since the implementation of the NCSC Staff Scheme in 1999.  As at the end of June 2012, there were totally 14 535 full-time NCSC staff employed by B/Ds.  Among them, 4 741 had been employed for five years or more.  The numbers of those with a length of continuous service of five years or more but less than 10 years, and those of 10 years or more were 2 925 and 1 816 respectively.  A breakdown of the employment situation by departments is set out in the Annex.  The number of NCSC staff with a length of continuous service of five years or more included: (i) staff serving in the same NCSC position as well as those in different NCSC positions of the same department but without a break in service; (ii) staff employed for time-limited programmes which could last up to five years or more; (iii) staff retained by B/Ds in the interim either pending the completion of the reviews on some Government services underway, or awaiting the conversion of the positions concerned into civil service posts as found appropriate in the reviews already completed; (iv) staff who were employed by those departments operating under the Trading Fund arrangement to meet service needs and business volume which are subject to fluctuation; and (v) staff working less than the conditioned hours required of civil servants.

     As regards the full-time NCSC staff, 3 867 of them have employment contracts lasting less than one year.  The CSB does not compile breakdown statistics on the cumulative duration of employment in units of months for NCSC staff employed for less than one year.

     Concerning part (b) of the question, for duties that involve work with permanent service needs or that should more appropriately be performed by civil servants, the departments will duly seek to replace the relevant positions with civil service posts.  As at the end of June 2012, about 5 080 such NCSC positions had been phased out upon expiry of the employment contracts of the NCSC staff concerned and the recruitment of replacement civil servants.  The CSB and departments will keep under review the employment situation of NCSC staff, and, upon confirmation of long-term service needs, seek to replace such NCSC positions with civil service posts as soon as possible.

     B/Ds, when determining the terms and conditions of service for NCSC staff (including entry pay and pay upon contract renewal), will take into account a host of considerations, such as condition of the employment market, recruitment results and cost of living, etc., to ensure that the pay is set at a rate that remains competitive with the market level, and enables them to recruit and retain suitable NCSC staff.  Also, B/Ds will conduct periodic reviews on the pay of their NCSC staff and make adjustments where appropriate.  As sufficient flexibility is already given to HoDs for meeting their individual operational needs under the existing pay determination and adjustment mechanism for NCSC staff, the CSB considers it unnecessary to introduce a system of granting annual salary increment to NCSC staff.

     As regards part (c) of the question, we see that civil service and NCSC appointments are two distinct types of employment.  Their purposes and circumstances of employment are entirely different.  Direct comparison between them would not be appropriate as their terms of employment and pay adjustment mechanisms are not the same.  The remuneration offered to NCSC staff is an "all-inclusive" pay package and it is stated in their employment contracts that they are not eligible for any allowances other than pay.  As such, in determining the pay for NCSC staff, departments will take into account all the relevant factors including job requirements, pay of comparable jobs in the market, etc.

     Regarding overtime compensations for NCSC staff in the Hongkong Post, we understand that given the business nature of postal service and the mail volume fluctuation, there are inevitable needs for the Hongkong Post to arrange for its staff to work overtime from time to time.  For daily-rated and hourly-rated NCSC staff in the Hongkong Post, their actual wages are normally calculated on the basis of the number of days/hours they have worked.  For those who are employed on monthly salaries, overtime work is compensated by time-off in lieu.  As to travel allowances, if vacant NCSC positions are remotely located, such as at the Air Mail Centre at Chek Lap Kok, the locations will be stated clearly in the recruitment advertisements posted by the Hongkong Post so that applicants can determine whether they would apply for the positions according to their own circumstances.  If vacancies spread over a number of districts, arrangements will be made for the recruited staff to work in districts of their choices as far as possible.

     Regarding the claim by some deputations that Health Surveillance Supervisors (HSSs) and Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) are not provided with uniforms by the Department of Health (DH), according to our understanding, the DH has provided HSSs and HSAs with uniforms to wear while on duty.  Besides, the DH has in place a mechanism to review the needs and other matters relating to staff uniforms on a regular basis.

     As to the proposal to accord priority to employing NCSC staff as civil servants, it is the Government's established policy to select the most suitable persons for civil service vacancies through an open, fair and competitive process.  As the circumstances and nature of the employment of NCSC staff are different from those of civil servants and the entry requirements as well as selection process for NCSC positions may differ from those of civil service posts, it is not appropriate to accord priority to employing NCSC staff as civil servants.  If NCSC staff are interested in civil service posts, they are welcome to apply in an open recruitment exercise.  Since relevant working experience is one of the factors considered in the recruitment of civil servants, NCSC staff who meet the basic entry requirements of civil service ranks should generally enjoy a competitive edge over other applicants because of their work experience in the Government.  In fact, our statistics show that NCSC staff perform better than other candidates in open recruitment.

     Moreover, for those NCSC positions identified for replacement by civil service posts, B/Ds will make such arrangements as to tie in with contract expiry date of NCSC staff concerned.  Notification will be given as early as possible to allow them to seek other employment.  Where practicable, B/Ds will also provide employment assistance to the NCSC staff concerned.  If B/Ds can identify other short-term jobs with the same duties and entry requirements within their own purview, they will accommodate displaced NCSC staff in these positions as far as practicable.  However, the job nature and entry requirements may vary among different NCSC positions.  Under the open and fair recruitment policy, when vacancies of NCSC positions of other job nature and/or entry requirements arise, interested NCSC staff will need to apply for these positions and compete with other applicants who are not working in the Government.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:49


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