Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Resource management cum human resource management

Many District Offices are now recruiting non-civil service contract Executive Assistants to do managerial work which is normally done by Executive Officers, owing to an increase of workload as a result of the 2006 review of the role of the district councils. Such job openings vary in pay and duration. The lack of a consistant approach has created some confusion in the job market.

District administration and a representative government have long been the driving force of the development of the Executive Officer Grade. More than 20 years ago, the Grade benefited a lot from the expansion of district administration and many Executive Officer posts were created to support district councils, district management, district liaison work and district activities. The recent devolution of power to districts could be the second wave.

The issue reflects to a large extent the policy, or the lack of it, in resource management cum human resource management of the government, both at the infrastructure level and the implementation level.

At the infrastructure level, some years ago, the central government exerted more control in financial management and allocated time-limited resources for time-limited projects. It was different from previous practices that resources were allocated per se and reviews were conducted from time to time to cut redundant resources, which in reality rarely occurred. Time-limited resources forced departments to plan human resources accordingly. For projects of considerable duration, surplus manpower afterwards could be absorbed by natural wastage. For short term projects, civil servants were appointed on civil service agreement terms with a view to non-renewal if necessary.

Upon the economic downturn several years ago, there was an initiative to curb the size of the civil service. Time-limited resources were then allocated without the accompanying civil service establishment. Departments were encouraged to engage non-civil servants to meet the additional manpower demand. Thus born a class of government employees on non-civil service contract terms.

The policy on the infrastructure of resource management cum human resource management is still not clear today. The Civil Service Bureau insists that non-civil service contract staff are not civil servants, and that they are only engaged temporarily on short term or project basis. In reality, most of the additional manpower requirements in the government in recent years were met by such staff. In certain new types of government services, the entire workforce comprises non-civil service contract staff. It could be a change of policy that non-core government services would be done by such staff. However, the policy is not made open at present and Civil Service Bureau is unable to admit such a change.

Take the district office as example, the increase in workload owing to additional power and responsibilities given to district councils is a long term measure. It is well justified that additional managerial manpower is required in the form of additional Executive Officer posts. Under the present arrangement, district offices could only made use of the district council funds and employ non-civil service contract staff without central control.

Using contract staff to meet changing manpower needs is a modern management approach. It could bring both the resources as well as manpower to the best utilization. However, on the implementation level, much confusion is created owing to inconsistent standards. In the name of devolution of authority and flexibility, Civil Service Bureau washes her hands and let things get chaotic. The first gap is the difference in pay and benefits between civil servants and non-civil service contract staff doing the same job. Pensionable or permanent civil servants (long term employees) and civil servants on agreement terms (short term employees) enjoy the same pay and benefits; while those on non-civil service contract lag far behind. We have done so many pay level surveys and pay trend surveys to ensure that government employees would receive no less pay and benefits than their private sector counterpart. How come non-civil service contract government employees are treated differently?

The other confusion in implementation is the disparity in pay for the same job done by non-civil service contract staff in different government departments, or even two district offices. Job seekers reading the job advertisements would wonder how the standard was set. I still do not understand why a non-civil service contract Executive Assistant is paid $14,000, while a new Executive Officer II with no experience is paid $21,000. Executive Officer starting pay is set after extensive surveys, duly compared with the private sector, and approved by Executive Council and Legislative Council. It must be fair and accurate. We have to believe that or else the entire civil service pay philosophy will collapse. But who set the pay for Executive Assistants, and on what basis? I have only one explanation: it is dictated by funds available and is exploitation of those desperately seeking job.

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