LCQ15: Welfare for staff members of the disciplined services

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joshua Law, in the Legislative Council today (Dec 6):


     Some members of the public have relayed to me that Hong Kong counts on its several teams of dedicated disciplined services to become one of the safest cities in the world. However, some staff members of the disciplined services have indicated that the meagre fringe benefits to which they are entitled have impacted on their morale and led to serious talent wastage. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the Government's five-day work week arrangement is not applicable to a considerable portion of staff members of the disciplined services, and when they take vacation leave, more annual leave entitlements are deducted as compared to the civil servants working under the five-day work week mode, of the respective numbers and percentages of the staff members of the various disciplined services who are currently working under the five-day work week mode (set out in a table by department); whether the authorities will conduct a review on narrowing the differences in the number of working hours among staff members of the disciplined services, and study the extension of the five-day work week arrangement to cover all staff members of the disciplined services; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as some staff members of the disciplined services have relayed that given the recruitment of additional manpower for the disciplined services in recent years, and junior officers in the disciplined services being unable to vacate their departmental quarters upon retirement due to delays in the allocation of public housing units to them under the Civil Service Public Housing Quota Scheme, the shortfall of departmental quarters for the various disciplined services has become increasingly acute, of the current numbers of departmental quarters and staff members waiting to be allocated quarters in respect of the various disciplined services (set out in a table by department); whether the authorities will allocate land for the construction of new quarters and adopt a higher plot ratio for the expansion of existing departmental quarters; if not, how the authorities tackle the shortage of departmental quarters;

(3) as some staff members of the disciplined services have relayed that as they need to work shifts, they can hardly get the priority discs of general outpatient clinics reserved for serving civil servants and are thus unable to receive timely diagnosis and treatments, whether the authorities will consider implementing a medical card system for staff members of the disciplined services and other civil servants, so as to enable them to seek consultations at different clinics; if so, of the details; if not, how the authorities address the aforesaid problem;

(4) as the medical benefits provided by the Government for civil servants (including staff members of the disciplined services) do not cover Chinese medicine consultation service, whether the authorities will include such service in the scope of the medical benefits provided for civil servants, or provide integrated Chinese-Western medicine services for civil servants in general outpatient clinics; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) as the staff members of the disciplined service appointed on or after June 1, 2000 will become ineligible for the medical benefits provided by the Government upon retirement, whether the authorities will consider allowing such staff members, upon retirement, to continue to enjoy the same medical benefits (including dental services) as pensionable civil servants; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) as the Chief Executive indicated in her Policy Address delivered in October this year that the Government had examined and agreed to extend the retirement age of serving civil servants (including staff members of the disciplined services) appointed between June 1, 2000 and May 31, 2015, whether the authorities will consider extending the retirement age of those serving civil servants (including disciplined services staff members) appointed before June 1, 2000; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government's civil service pay policy is to offer sufficient remuneration to attract, retain and motivate staff of suitable calibre to provide the public with an effective and efficient service; and to maintain broad comparability between civil service and private sector pay. To implement this policy, apart from conducting regular reviews on civil service pay in accordance with the established pay adjustment mechanism, the Government is also committed to enhancing the fringe benefits of civil servants. The number of applications received for various civil service jobs, including those in the disciplined services, has long remained at a relatively high level whereas the wastage rate has been consistently low, indicating the attractiveness of the remuneration of civil service jobs in society, and that the Government is able to recruit and retain staff of high calibre.

     The reply to different parts of the question, after consulting relevant policy bureaux, is set out below:

(1) The Government has implemented the five-day week (FDW) initiative since 2006. The policy objective is to improve the quality of civil servants' family life without compromising the level and efficiency of public services or incurring additional costs to taxpayers. The number and percentage of staff of the disciplined services grades working on a FDW pattern as at September 30, 2016 are set out below:
Department Number of staff of the disciplined services grades working on a FDW pattern As a percentage of staff of the disciplined services grades in the department
Hong Kong Police Force 14 601 50.3%
Fire Services Department 9 037 96.8%
Correctional Services Department 813 13.9%
Immigration Department 3 223 58.8%
Customs and Excise Department 2 047 42.9%
Government Flying Service 174 100%

     All Government departments, including those of the disciplined and civilian services, have to comply with the four basic principles below when implementing FDW:

(a) no additional staffing resources;
(b) no reduction in the conditioned hours of work of individual staff;
(c) no reduction in emergency services; and
(d) continued provision of essential counter services on Saturdays/Sundays.

     Due to actual operational needs, it is unavoidable that some civil servants cannot work on a FDW pattern. However, we will continue to encourage departments which have not fully implemented FDW to explore ways for migration of more staff to FDW.

     Regarding the conditioned hours of work, there is no uniform conditioned hours of work in the civil service at present. Based on the nature of work, operational needs and other relevant considerations, civil servants of different grades (including civil servants of different disciplined services grades) have different conditioned hours of work.

     Conditioned hours of work is part of the conditions of service. We have an open mind on proposals to reduce the conditioned hours of work, whether they concern the civilian grades or disciplined services grades. Such proposals, however, have to comply with three prerequisites (i.e. cost-neutrality, no additional manpower and maintaining the same level of service to the public) as well as the "same grade, same conditioned hours of work" principle to ensure prudent use of public resources, no impact on the services provided to the public and proper management of the civil service. There are precedents of reduction of conditioned hours of work in compliance with the above prerequisites. For example, the conditioned hours of work of around 6 000 operational staff in the Fire Stream of the Fire Services Department were reduced from 54 hours gross per week to 51 hours gross per week with effect from July 18, 2016.

(2) It is a government policy to provide departmental quarters for married disciplined services staff, subject to the availability of resources. The Government is taking forward the eight departmental quarters projects announced in the Chief Executive's 2014 Policy Address, providing in total around 3 000 units upon completion, which will alleviate the shortfall position of departmental quarters. We are also proactively studying proposals to increase the supply of departmental quarters, including redevelopment of existing quarters, reallocation of vacant quarters units, assessing the feasibility to develop quarters within future facilities of disciplined services departments, etc. To optimise the use of land resources, the Government has been striving to raise the plot ratio or relax the building height restrictions of departmental quarters sites as appropriate for the provision of additional flats. The departments concerned will continue to closely keep in view the demand situation of departmental quarters and, at the same time, proactively take forward various departmental quarters projects.

     As at November 1, 2017, the number of departmental quarters units under each disciplined services department and the number of staff eligible for departmental quarters are as follows:
  Number of departmental quarters units Number of staff eligible for departmental quarters
Hong Kong Police Force 12 388 15 546
Fire Services Department 4 097 5 831
Correctional Services Department 2 416 2 749
Immigration Department 1 619 2 636
Customs and Excise Department 1 703 2 367
Government Flying Service 71 84

(3) According to the Civil Service Regulations, medical advice and treatment, X-ray examinations and medicines are available free of charge to civil service eligible persons (CSEPs) only when those benefits are provided by the Government or Hospital Authority (HA) medical services. The provision of medical cards for CSEPs to enable them to seek consultations from private doctors is equivalent to directly subsidising them to seek private healthcare services, which is a substantial policy change. Currently, we do not have any plan to provide CSEPs with medical cards in lieu of the benefits being provided to them by the Government and the HA.

(4) At present, the HA and the Department of Health do not operate any Chinese medicine clinics. Therefore, CSEPs are not provided with Chinese medicine services.

     The Government has all along been committed to promoting the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. To this end, the Government established the Chinese Medicine Development Committee in 2013 to explore the long-term development needs of the Chinese medicine sector so as to facilitate Chinese medicine to play a more active role in public health. As for the development of a Chinese medicine hospital, the Food and Health Bureau will draw reference from the analysis report prepared by the international consultant based on the consultation with local stakeholders and overseas experts and scheduled for completion in late 2017/early 2018, and further plan for the governance structure, business model, operation model, financial model and contract management model of the Chinese medicine hospital. It is expected that the positioning and the framework of development in major areas of the Chinese medicine hospital will be announced in the first half of 2018.

     The Civil Service Bureau will closely monitor the positioning and the direction of development of the Chinese medicine services in the public healthcare system in future so as to review the relevant issues.

(5) In response to the requests of the public and the Legislative Council towards the end of the 1990s, the Government conducted a series of civil service reforms, including the revision of the terms and conditions of service for civil servants. Civil servants appointed on or after June 1, 2000 and their eligible family members will no longer be eligible for medical benefits after the officers concerned leave the civil service. The Government made this decision after taking into account private sector practices and consultation with the relevant stakeholders. The relevant conditions are stated clearly in the Memorandum on Conditions of Service for officers appointed on the new terms, and the officers concerned, upon joining the civil service, should be well aware of the medical benefits to which they are entitled.

     To continue the provision of medical benefits for the civil servants concerned after their retirement will amount to a change in their conditions of service, based on which they have accepted the offer of appointment by the Government. To make any change in their terms of appointment now will involve a major policy change. At this stage, we do not see sufficient grounds to justify a change in the existing terms of appointment.

(6) The Chief Executive announced in the 2017 Policy Address that to tie in with the goal of expanding the labour force and to respond to the aspirations of serving civil servants, the Government has re-examined and agreed that serving civil servants joining the Government between June 1, 2000 and May 31, 2015 will be allowed to choose to retire at 65 (for civilian grades) or 60 (for disciplined services grades).

     As the majority of civil servants appointed between June 1, 2000 and May 31, 2015 will reach the existing retirement age 15 to 25 years later when the labour force in Hong Kong would hover at a low level, the Government considers that the initiative of allowing them to choose to extend their retirement age should be adopted from the population policy angle.

     As regards civil servants appointed before June 1, 2000, it is not fully justifiable from the population policy angle to allow them to choose to extend their retirement age. This notwithstanding, departments would, having regard to operational needs, continue to make use of other measures for extending the service of serving civil servants to meet their manpower requirement. Such measures include the Post-retirement Service Contract Scheme, final extension of service and the adjusted further employment mechanism.

Ends/Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00