Persistent underperformers in the Hong Kong civil service will now be sacked under a streamlined system that will reduce “unnecessary representations” by those facing the axe, authorities have said.
The Civil Service Bureau on Monday said the new mechanism was aimed at maintaining professionalism and efficiency to improve governance, but a union leader warned it could deter people from joining amid an employee exodus.
The measure, which took effect immediately, will reduce what the government called “unnecessary representations” by underperformers at multiple junctures.
Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan had earlier said government employees facing forced retirement would have two instead of four windows to make representations.
According to the bureau, a requirement for an independent panel review in the process would also be dropped, while an observation period for underperforming staffers may only be extended once and for specific reasons.
“For officers whose performance remains persistently substandard despite supervision and assistance, their appointment should be terminated in a timely manner,” it said in a statement.
The bureau added that staff “generally agreed” with the new measures.
Leung Chau-ting, founder and chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Union, warned that the reforms could deter people interested in government jobs from joining the civil service.
Newcomers could be scared off by the review mechanism as they usually took more time to learn the ropes, he added.
“Without the independent panel review, there will be no safeguards for civil servants against the appraisal system. If their supervisors, for any personal and subjective reasons give them a poor grade during the performance review, it is useless to appeal as their supervisors’ words are final,” Leung said.
“So many people are leaving, and the civil service is no longer attractive in terms of salary and benefits compared with the private sector. This new reform will worsen the manpower crunch.”
Minister Yeung last month said persistent underperformers could be sacked “in a few months” under the proposed streamlined system, down from the average of more than two years.
She also said government employees would be required to maintain a spirit of political neutrality under a new code of conduct, even if the requisite was removed under proposed updates for the rules.
The new system, first mentioned by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu last October during his maiden policy address, is part of a series of reforms that seek to maintain the efficiency of the service, which has 174,000 workers on the public payroll.
Authorities took formal disciplinary action against 451 civil servants for serious misconduct or criminal convictions over the past two financial years, according to statistics from the bureau.
Thirty-five civil servants were dismissed in the 2021-22 financial year and another 47 in 2022-23, while 17 and 13 staff respectively were placed on compulsory retirement.
The Hong Kong civil service has faced a record-high worker exodus in recent years following the 2019 anti-government protests, sparked by the later-withdrawn extradition bill, with more than 3,863 resignations in the 2022-23 financial year and 3,734 during the previous one, leading to concerns about a brain drain.
To tackle a staff shortage, the bureau introduced new measures in June allowing undergraduates to apply for civil service jobs before their final year and join the government immediately after they completed their studies.