Tuesday, August 8, 2006

NCSC staff

There is a very basic paradox with Non-Civil Service Contract staff. Are they civil servants? They are performing the same duties as other civil servants, providing services to the public, running the government, being blamed when the government policies go bad, subject to disciplinary actions and bound by the Official Secrets Ordinance. For members of the public, an officer sitting behind the counter, inspecting their shops, and doing all sorts of thing the government does are all their servants. If we are talking about the civil service, civil servants and NCSC staff are included.

So what is the meaning of a non-civil service contract to someone in the civil service? I think it means just that: a non-civil service contract. In the contract, there are things that are non-civil service (some say they are non-civil). They are the pay and fringe benefits package, and the duration of the contract. We can easily understand the difference in the pay and fringe benefits package; they are lower than what are normally received by civil servants. It is not that NCSC staff should be rewarded less. It is just that the community considers civil servants are rewarded too much, and any new comers should comply with the "norm", while those with vested interest are tolerated. The other non-civil, uhh.. non-civil service, arrangement is the duration of the employment. Contract is not a strange thing. There are many civil servants on contract, but not like the NCSC. NCS contract says it is short term. Although it does not rule out renewal, the job is for short term requirement or on project basis.

But one should think twice and admire the wisdom of the NCSC arrangement. There was a time not long ago when there was a worldwide trend of flexible workforce: flexible in the eyes of the employers in the free hand of deploying, and hiring and firing of employees, but covered under the disguise of flexibility for the employees, who may then freely seek better employment globally, work from home, seek work life balance, be engaged in short term contract rather than life long employment. At the same time, there was the public sector reform, of which one of its major objectives was the civil service reform. We needed small government, and so small civil service. The final blow was the budget deficit, which put the civil service emolument in the spot light. At a time of economic downturn, this was easily a target for all. The government responded by cutting back civil service fringe benefits, and conducted pay level survey with a view to reducing civil service pay. All these aimed only at new recruits, serving civil servants were not affected, so the effect of these measures has yet to be felt.

The other more difficult thing to handle was the efficiency savings leading to downsizing. The intention was good. Departments should trim fat by the 3R, re-organizing, re-prioritizing and re-engineering, i.e. the unnecessary, wasteful and redundant work procedures and staff were to be eliminated. But departments were reluctant to comply with the across the board cut percentage. Cuts were made for expediency only. Some sections remained fat while some came near to collapsing. The NCSC arrangement came as a rescue. We shouldn't be reading the circular for reason as it was only about procedures. On reflection, it was an ingenious move which filled the gap of staff shortage under the recruitment freeze.

Semantics aside, we really shouldn't have two breeds of civil servants with so much disparities working on the same job. But lies still have to be complete. So NCSC will remain as it is, fulfill its historic role, and perform its functions both proclaimed and hidden, until the government is ready to clean up the mess. My guess is two years from now, there will be open recruitment for civil servants on new pay scales, new fringe benefits package and new terms of appointment. Some NCSC staff will be appointed; some will just go away. This new breed of civil servants will replace all old staff in thirty years.