09 May 2007

Treating government servants fairly

The Sun

In the eyes of many, especially if a person is not a civil servant or a dependent of one, the civil servants don't deserve a pay increase because the overall productivity of the civil service is generally felt to be low.

But to deny periodic pay adjustments to civil servants - the last major revision is said to have been in 1992 - is to be unfair to the hundreds of thousands of them out of some 1.2 million who actually do their jobs well and shoulder their responsibilities.

Examples would include the overworked doctor who gets a fraction the salary of his private sector counterpart, and the hardworking teacher who works much more than just half a day with all the extra-curricular activity, marking of exercise books, etc.

There are two separate issues that are involved. The first is whether government servants are actually paid too little and whether they deserve a substantial pay rise for the work that they are supposed to be doing.

The other is whether government servants are actually doing the work that they have been tasked with doing and whether they are being under-worked and not performing up to expectations.

The problem is, when there is an assessment of whether government salaries are to be adjusted upwards the two issues are confused and therefore fused together as if they are one. It is important to realise that they are not.

If some government workers are shirking and not doing their work according to procedure and expectations, then the government must do something to sort that out.

One way would be to penalise bad performance and reward good performance instead of giving everyone the same benefits.

The pay and benefits must be differentiated according to performance so that better workers can be better rewarded and those who can't perform either rehabilitated or fired. Then everybody pulls their weight and productivity improves.

But salary adjustments must continue periodically even as the government sorts out its rewards methodology.

Otherwise, government workers are going to be underpaid and many of them will continue to need two jobs just to survive.

Government servants need a hefty pay rise to improve living standards and to attract new talent into the service while the government needs to tighten up to reward good workers and penalise bad ones. Both things need to be done simultaneously.

If they are, then both the public and the civil servants would be given a fair shake.

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