Posts Tagged ‘pay’

Americans Feel Good About the Economy, Not So Good About Trump

July 17, 2017

By John McCormick

July 17, 2017, 4:00 AM EDT
  • Just 40 percent approve of president’s performance in office
  • Narrow majority expect stock market to be higher by year’s end
Traders pass in front of an American flag displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York.

 Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Almost six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans are feeling fairly optimistic about their jobs, the strength of the U.S. economy, and their own fortunes. That should be welcome news for the president, except for one thing: The public’s confidence largely appears to be in spite of Trump, not because of him.

The latest Bloomberg National Poll shows 58 percent of Americans believe they’re moving closer to realizing their own career and financial aspirations, tied for the highest recorded in the poll since the question was first asked in February 2013.

A majority expect the U.S. stock market to be higher by the end of this year, while 30 percent anticipate a decline. Yet they don’t necessarily think Trump deserves credit for rising markets and falling unemployment.

Just 40 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing in the White House, and 55 percent now view him unfavorably, up 12 points since December. Sixty-one percent say the nation is headed down the wrong path, also up 12 points since December.

Trump scored his best numbers on his handling of the economy, but even there the news for him isn’t great. Less than half of Americans — 46 percent — approve of Trump’s performance on the economy; 44 percent disapprove. He gets slightly better marks for job creation, with 47 percent approving.

“If you take the president’s scores out of this poll, you see a nation increasingly happy about the economy,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who oversaw the survey. “When Trump’s name is mentioned, the clouds gather.”

In nearly every measure of his performance, the poll indicates that Trump’s tumultuous presidency is not wearing well with the public. A 56 percent majority say they’re more pessimistic about Trump because of his statements and actions since the election. That’s a huge swing since December when 55 percent said his statements and actions made them more optimistic about him.

Read the poll questions and methodology here.

The public has grown more skeptical that Trump will deliver on some of his most ambitious campaign promises. Two-thirds don’t think he’ll succeed in building a wall along the Mexican border during his first term. More than half say he won’t be able to revive the coal industry.

A majority — 54 percent — believe Trump will manage to create trade deals more beneficial to the U.S., but that’s down from 66 percent in December. There’s division on whether he’ll be able to bring a substantial number of jobs back to America, or significantly reform the tax code.

And despite his assurances that he and congressional Republicans will repeal Obamacare and replace it with a “beautiful” new health care bill, 64 percent of Americans say they disapprove of his handling of the issue. That’s especially significant because health care topped unemployment, terrorism and immigration as the issue poll respondents chose as the most important challenge facing the nation right now.

There are at least two areas where Americans say they believe Trump will deliver: Almost two-thirds say he will make significant cuts in government regulation, though it’s not clear whether most think that’s a good or bad thing. Likewise, 53 percent believe he will succeed in deporting millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The public is also skeptical about Trump’s abilities as a world leader, with 58 percent saying they disapprove of the way he handles relations with other countries and 46 percent disappointed in his actions on trade agreements.

Americans are more pessimistic about foreign policy than they were in December. Fifty-five percent now say they expect dealings with Germany to get worse during the next four years, up 22 points. The share of poll respondents who anticipate worsening relations with the U.K., Mexico, Cuba and Russia also increased by double digits.

The public is also wary of Trump’s motives in his negotiations with other countries. Just 24 percent said they were “very confident” that Trump puts the nation’s interests ahead of his businesses or family when dealing with foreign leaders.

Americans have plenty of other worries about the world. Majorities believe it’s realistic that terrorists will launch a major attack on U.S. soil (68 percent) and that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon aimed at the U.S. (55 percent).

Trump has called the expanding investigations into possible connections between his presidential campaign and Russia a “witch hunt.” But the public isn’t necessarily taking his side. Since the president’s decision to oust former FBI Director James Comey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s standing has improved. It’s now viewed favorably by 68 percent, up 10 points since December. Comey is viewed positively by 43 percent, while 36 percent see him negatively.

Meanwhile, most Americans don’t share the president’s apparent soft spot for Vladimir Putin: 65 percent view the Russian president negatively — and 53 percent say it’s realistic to think Russian hacking will disrupt future U.S. elections.

There is one notable bright spot for Trump. Though views of the White House as an institution are at the lowest level ever recorded by the poll — with 48 percent now viewing it unfavorably, up 21 points since December — Trump’s voters are still sticking with him. Among those who cast ballots for him, 89 percent still say he’s doing a good job.

The telephone poll of 1,001 American adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, higher among subgroups. It was conducted July 8-12 by Iowa-based Selzer & Co.


Domocracy: Hong Kong protesters march for ‘genuine universal suffrage’ one month after Carrie Lam elected leader

April 23, 2017

More than 200 people also express opposition to way city’s leader is elected

By Jeffie Lam
South China Morning Post

Sunday, April 23, 2017, 4:15pm

Anemic Wage Growth Restraining Economy

April 30, 2016

Sluggish worker earnings keep consumer spending in check

While some employers in low-wage industries say they’re seeing increased pressures tied to minimum-wage increases, others say there’s been little pressure to boost pay. Here, Brittney Bounds bags groceries at a market in Sacramento, Calif., last year.
While some employers in low-wage industries say they’re seeing increased pressures tied to minimum-wage increases, others say there’s been little pressure to boost pay. Here, Brittney Bounds bags groceries at a market in Sacramento, Calif., last year. PHOTO: RICH PEDRONCELLI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Updated April 29, 2016 5:04 p.m. ET

Years of solid job gains are failing to produce a breakout in wages, suppressing the spark needed for a sustained pickup in economic growth.

U.S. employers for the past four years created more than 200,000 jobs a month on average. That has driven the unemployment rate down to 5% last month from above 8% in early 2012.

But wages have shown little progress. Wages and salaries for private-sectors workers advanced 2% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the Labor Department said Friday. The measure has grown near that rate, on average, since the start of 2012.

The U.S. economy, like much of the globe, is stuck in a slow-growth rut. Turmoil overseas and still-weak commodity prices are preventing the manufacturing, trade and energy sectors from supporting growth. That leaves U.S. consumers to boost the expansion. But without accelerating wages, it’s difficult for them to step up spending.

“We continue to be on track for very slow progress,” said BNP Paribas economist Laura Rosner. “That’s reflected in the lack of wage growth.”

Economists harbor little hope for a significant economic rebound this spring, though they do expect some pickup after a disappointing winter performance when the economy expanded at a 0.5% pace. Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers projects gross domesticproduct to advance at a 2.1% pace in the second quarter. GDP figures are adjusted for price changes. Such anacceleration would only bring growth roughly back in line with the overallpace of the lackluster expansion.

Overall compensation for all workers, a figure that includes benefits, rose 1.9% from a year earlier, the Labor Department said. Federal Reserve officials watch the gauge for signs of labor-cost inflation.

The reading has been consistently stronger than overall inflation. Consumer prices rose 0.8% from a year earlier in March, a separate Commerce Department report said Friday. But the compensation growth remains small compared with the pace of increases during the previous expansion. From 2002 through 2007 compensation averaged better than 3% annual growth.

Another measure of wages, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers, shows slightly stronger gains, up 2.3% in March from a year earlier. But that, too, is little changed from recent years. Four years ago, in March 2012, the annual gain was 2.1%.

Some employers that hire low-wage workers say they are seeing increased pressures tied to minimum-wage increases in 26 states since the start of 2014. But other firms say there’s been little change.

Wage pressures are “nothing really any different than we’ve seen in the past,” Jeff Shaw, executive vice president for store operations at O’Reilly Automotive Inc., told investors Thursday. “There’s always a scramble for great people in the market. But…really no changes that we’ve seen.”

Several factors are constraining wage growth.

The unemployment rate might not fully reflect the degree of slack in the labor market. Some older workers and those displaced during the recession have returned to the workforce recently, and that makes it difficult for existing workers to demand higher pay.

And productivity growth in many service fields has been low, meaning even small wage gains can feel expensive for employers in those sectors, said BNP’s Ms. Rosner. That could partially reflect global cost pressures due to services that can more easily be provided from overseas, via the Internet and call centers, she said.

Weak wage gains are at least partially responsible for lackluster spending. Overall consumer outlays increased just 0.1% in March from February. Accounting for price increases, spending was flat for the second time in three months, Commerce Department data showed. The same report showed consumers are increasing savings at a faster rate than spending, a potential sign of shaky confidence.

The University of Michigan’s gauge of U.S. consumer sentiment, also released Friday, declined in April to its lowest level in seven months.

“Consumer mood and spending have been rather subdued recently due to volatility in the stock market and rising pump prices, despite well received employment reports,” said IHS economist Chris Christopher. But he forecasts better April spending, “so long as the stock market behaves itself, second-quarter consumer spending is likely to be significantly stronger than the first quarter.”

Write to Eric Morath at


  (This is from October 2014 but many still feel like they did then)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has described the “stagnant living standards for the majority.”

The ripple effect of the president’s tax hikes is swamping take-home pay


MIT economist Jonathan Gruber testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, before the House Oversight Committee health care hearing. Congressional Democrats charged Tuesday that Republicans are seizing on a health adviser’s self-described “thoughtless” and misleading remarks to attack President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

ACA Architect: ‘The Stupidity Of The American Voter’ Led Us To Hide Obamacare’s True Costs From The Public

NHS Doctors on Strike: Hospitals Hope Patients “Stay Away” — NHS England pledged to ensure patient safety

April 27, 2016

BBC News

Medics walked out of both emergency and routine care at 08:00 BST and will not return until 17:00 BST.

This follows Tuesday’s stoppage which hospitals coped well with – many saying they were quieter than normal.

NHS bosses have urged patients to continue to use services “wisely”.

This week’s strikes are the first time doctors have stopped providing emergency care in the history of the NHS.

Jeremy Hunt: “Withdrawing emergency care is a very disproportionate action”

Emergency protocols have been agreed to allow hospitals to call for junior doctors to return to work if patients are at risk.

But they were not used by any NHS trust on Tuesday, when 78% of junior doctors did not turn up for work.

NHS England’s Anne Rainsberry said that was down to the hard work of staff that were on duty – consultants and nurses were redeployed to emergency services following the cancellation of more than 100,000 routine appointments and nearly 13,000 non-emergency operations.

“This is an unprecedented situation and staff across the NHS have made Herculean efforts to ensure continued safe services for patients.”

She said the walkout continued to bring “heightened risk” which NHS England would “vigilantly monitor”.

“The NHS is open for business but in some places may be under specific pressure. We ask the public to use it wisely in this very challenging time,” she added.

Striking doctors

AFP photo

A dedicated webpage has been set up on NHS Choices to provide information about the strike.

A number of hospitals told the BBC that services ran smoothly during Tuesday’s stoppage, with Milton Keynes Hospital saying some actually ran more quickly because of the increased presence of consultants able to make quick decisions.

Dr Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said demand at his hospital trust – Taunton and Somerset – had been quieter than normal and he was “absolutely” sure lives had not been put at risk because of the cover provided by other doctors and nurses.

Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust said everything ran “smoothly”, while Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it had not seen “undue pressure”, although it did “anticipate a surge in demand” once the strikes were over.

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey said: “Contingency plans are going smoothly.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the walkout as a “very, very bleak day” for the NHS, but once again stressed the government would not back down, saying no union had the right to stop a government trying to act on a manifesto promise.

BMA leader Dr Mark Porter said he was “pleased” the planning the union had done with NHS England to ensure patient safety had worked well.

But patient groups have warned the accumulation of postponed treatments – nearly 40,000 operations have now been delayed during the whole dispute – is taking its toll and causing harm. Alongside routine treatments, there have been reports of cancer patients facing delays.

The dispute is over a new contract that the government announced in February would be imposed from the summer. This followed the breakdown of talks between the two sides in January.

The contract makes it cheaper to rota doctors on at weekends – something ministers say is needed to improve care on a Saturday and Sunday.

The BMA has argued it is unfair and the NHS needs extra investment to pay for seven-day services.

Before this week’s strikes, there had been four walkouts but all involved emergency care being maintained by junior doctors.


UK Junior doctors’ strike: Race on to avert next doctors’ walkout

January 13, 2016

BBC News

Attempts are under way to avert a second doctors’ strike in England, as hospitals battle to re-arrange thousands of operations postponed because of the contract dispute.

A 24-hour walkout by junior doctors ended at 08:00 GMT, and conciliation service Acas says it hopes formal talks can restart by the end of the week.

The next proposed strike is a 48-hour one beginning on 26 January.

More than 4,000 operations were postponed amid the dispute.

Some 3,300 were ones scheduled on Tuesday – meaning one in 10 on the day were hit by the strike – with the rest of the cancellations coming in the days before and after the action.

NHS England said about 10,000 junior doctors had reported for duty out of 26,000 scheduled to work the day shift on Tuesday – although many of those had agreed in advance to come in to make sure emergency cover was provided.

Junior doctors’ dispute: What next?

The action came after talks between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the government failed to reach agreement on a proposed new contract for junior doctors.

The BMA, which is concerned about pay for weekend working, career progression and safeguards to protect doctors from being overworked, said the strike had sent a “clear message” to the government.

However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the walkout as “completely unnecessary” and urged junior doctors to return to the negotiating table.

The last time both sides met formally was on Friday, but negotiations were put on hold while the strike was held.

Officials from Acas are expected to contact both sides later to get them back round the table, although government sources said they were still prepared to impose the contract if the deadlock could not be broken.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which represents the government in contract talks, said he wanted to see that happen.

“I’m really hopeful that when the BMA return to the talks we can give junior doctors more confidence in both the pay offer that we’re putting to them, but also the improved protections we want to put in place around their safety.

“I am desperate to avoid another repeat of industrial action at the end of the month. It’s not in their interest and it’s not in the interest of patients.”

The BMA said it was open to getting talks started.

'I love NHS' hat

Image copyright Getty Images
What is the dispute about?
  • The row between junior doctors and the government is over a new contract
  • Talks broke down in 2014, but the dispute has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the deal
  • Ministers offered doctors an 11% rise in basic pay last year, but that was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including payments for unsociable hours – they have maintained there is not extra money for junior doctor pay
  • The government says the changes are needed to create more seven-days services, but the BMA warns safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened and also has concerns about career progression and weekend pay
  • A 48-hour strike is scheduled for Tuesday 26 January – emergency cover will again be provided
  • An all-out junior doctors’ strike is planned for Wednesday 10 February – emergency cover will not be provided

The junior doctors row explained

What exactly do junior doctors do?

How does your job compare?

The walkout by junior doctors happened as hospital bosses continue to play catch-up after thousands of operations were cancelled at the start of December – when doctors were first due to go on strike.

That walkout was called off at the last minute to allow talks to restart.

The NHS is meant to ensure patients are seen within 28 days of a cancellation, but that is expected to prove difficult to achieve given the numbers in the system and the fact it is winter – the busiest time of year for hospitals.

A spokeswoman for NHS England apologised for the disruption caused on Tuesday, saying cancelled tests, appointments and operations would be rescheduled “as soon as is possible”.


This Is Why Britain’s Doctors Have Gone on Strike Today — The future of the National Health Service has become the most reliably divisive issue in British politics

January 12, 2016

By Fortune

UK doctors strike January 12, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM – JANUARY 12: Junior Doctors picket outside The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham as they and other doctors stage a 24-hour strike across the NHS on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Doctors are in dispute with the government over new contracts and are only providing emergency cover during the 24-hour walkout. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

JANUARY 12, 2016, 12:25 PM EST

Junior doctors are up in arms about changes to their contract–and giving the government a proper headache.

Tens of thousands of junior doctors across England have gone on strike Tuesday over government plans to change their work contracts in a way that medics claim will leave them worse off.

The action, the first such for over 40 years, is the latest twist in a chronic financing crisis at the state-funded National Health Service, and comes after weeks of increasingly bitter recriminations between the doctors and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Across much of England, patients received only, while planned over 3,500 operations and many more consultations were postponed. It’s the first of the first of three planned days of strike action. The BBC reported that over a third of the doctors involved had reported for work as normal, but that’s because they were due to perform the pared-down emergency services, rather than because they were strike-breaking.

Junior doctors (a phrase that covers those who have just graduated from med school to those with as much as 10 years of experience in practise) routinely work 100 hours a week due to staff shortages, according to the British Medical Association, on starting salaries of as little as $36,000. Their working conditions are regularly paraded as proof of how it has become impossible to square the commitment to a universal, taxpayer-funded health-care system with the finite resources at government’s disposal. Britain spends less per capita on health than most advanced nations, but the bill for the NHS in England alone still comes to over £106 billion ($154 billion) this year – over 9% of GDP.

Given the acuteness and breadth of the systemic crisis facing the NHS, the direct cause of today’s strike is bizarrely arcane. It revolves around government plans for a new contract that would raise basic pay by 11%, but reduce the number of evening and weekend hours that qualify as “antisocial”, and thus subject to top-up payments (the top-up rates themselves are also being cut to a maximum of 150% of the basic rate, from 200% at present). In essence, it boils down to an attempt to make Saturday count as a regular weekday, consistent with the government’s efforts to make more NHS services, such as consultations and scheduled operations, available at weekends.

The new contract will also scrap guaranteed pay increases linked to time in the job, replacing them with a new scale linked to the completion of certain training stages.

The future of the NHS has become the most reliably divisive issue in British politics over the last decades, with Conservative governments tending towards reining in constantly rising costs, and Labour governments prioritizing service levels, even at the cost of much wider budget deficits.


Thousands of UK doctors walk off the job in pay dispute

January 12, 2016

LONDON — Thousands of junior doctors walked off the job Tuesday in England in a dispute over pay and working conditions — the first such strike in 40 years.

Some 50,000 junior doctors —those who are training and have between one and 10 years of experience — were on strike for 24 hours protesting government plans to change pay and work schedules.

The striking doctors argue patients will be put at risk by the government’s policies, while the government says the National Health Service needs more flexibility to deliver services on weekends.

The strike has forced cancellation of some 4,000 operations and outpatient procedures.

Prime Minister David Cameron pleaded with doctors on Monday to call off the action, but officials were notably silent Tuesday as protests unfolded across England. The health service is considered a treasured institution here and enjoys widespread public support despite its many problems.

Britain’s government has insisted that the health service has been ring-fenced from the cuts hitting other government agencies as part of austerity plans meant to control the budget hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis. But with medical costs rising, the government insists changes are needed, particularly in staffing on weekends.

Waving banners saying “The NHS needs saving and they’re not listening but we’ve got something to say,” demonstrators formed picket lines outside hospitals beginning in the early morning.

Nadia Masood, 34, who organized the picket at Great Ormond Street Hospital, accused the government of not negotiating in good faith with public sector workers. Masood said support for the strike among the doctors was overwhelming.

NHS protesters at Great Ormond Street Hospital

“This isn’t the first time we have been mistreated by the government though, that just tells you how bad these changes are,” she said.

Singers serenaded the strikers, and cab drivers honked horns in support.

Paul Ryan: “The State of The Union is a Mess” — “I think the economy is very weak.” — “There are no red lines any more. Our word is not known to be what it used to be. The military is inadequately prepared.”

January 12, 2016

CBS News

House Speaker Paul Ryan. AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite

The new House Speaker doesn’t have high expectations for the President Obama’s final State of the Union address.

“I’m sure he’ll have a nice glossy rendition of the last six or seven years. I think he’ll talk about what he inherited, how he made it better,” House Speaker, R-Wisconsin, told a group of reporters and anchors over breakfast – his first time hosting what has been an annual tradition for House Speakers.

After 70 straight months of job growth, Mr. Obama will likely declare that the state of the economy is strong. But Ryan doesn’t see it that way.

“I think it’s a mess,” he said. “I think the economy is very weak. I think if you look at wages, if you look at income growth, if you look at poverty, it’s very weak. He has basically practiced trickle-down economics. Big government, top down, loose money from the Fed — which helps those of you from New York, it helps the stock market really well, but it’s not helping middle incomes.”

Ryan also predicted that the president would ignore stubborn problems like wage stagnation. “I think he’ll paper that over. I think he’ll put up a bunch of straw man arguments, which to me is the most intellectually lazy form of debate. But we’re kind of used to it.”

Foreign policy? That’s a mess too, he said.

“There are no red lines any more. Our word is not known to be what it used to be. The military is inadequately prepared and our word doesn’t mean much anymore. You’ve got the Sunni and Shia at each other in the Gulf. You’ve got Putin kicking over countries. You’ve got the Chinese landing planes on islands they now claim, which they don’t own. Everybody believes that there’s no check on this. So I think it’s a real problem, and our allies are very nervous.”

Ryan, who argued that Mr. Obama has no plan to take on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was asked what he thinks the president should do in Syria.

“Not to pass the buck, but the commander in chief is the one who is supposed to execute foreign policy. It’s the commander in chief’s job to come up with a plan,” he responded. “We’re not supposed to have 435 generals coming up with our strategies.” I asked whether his reluctance to lay out his own proposal had to do with the fact that there are no great options. “There are awful options, because of bad decisions made earlier! We kept kicking the can, ignoring the problem,” he responded.

The 45-year-old congressman from Wisconsin was asked which policy areas he things he can make progress with the White House this year. The list was short, and included criminal justice reform and appropriations bills.

“There are bipartisan issues out there, but the silly season is about to start,” he said, referring to campaign season, when the two parties often retreat to their corners, making cooperation more difficult.

Ryan said he’s well aware that the president intends to lay out plans tonight to skirt Congress where he can. “I expect him to do about five or six of these kinds of things over the course of the year….to stretch the limits of the constitution, to extend his reach beyond the separation of powers, beyond his powers in the constitution….This is what the progressives think. They think the Constitution is this living, breathing, malleable document that can move.” Ryan said he’s prepared to take on those executive actions any way he can. “Will we be on the floor with legislation? Will we be in court? I assume all of the above.”

Ryan took over the speakership in October, and this will be his first time sitting behind the president during a State of the Union address. He tried out the poker face he’s been practicing on the reporters in the room, joking, “I don’t do that, I’m kind of an expressive person…I’m an Irish guy, that’s just what we do!” Lucky for him, he’ll be sitting alongside fellow Irishman Vice President Joe Biden, who isn’t known for his poker face either.

Ryan initially resisted taking on the Speaker’s role, but relented at the urging of his fellow Republicans. Two and a half months later, he’s glad he took the job.

“I like it better than I thought I would,” he shared. “The job is an honor. I’m honored that my colleagues didn’t take no for an answer. And as soon as I resigned myself to doing it, my mind just pivoted over to enjoying it and doing it joyfully.”

His suite of offices has a different look than it did when John Boehner was speaker – and that’s out of necessity. “Do you what it took to get that smell out of here?” Ryan joked, referring to Boehner’s well known smoking habit. “It took about two weeks just to get it out of here. Two packs a day for five years is…you could smell it a lot.” New carpets, new upholstery and a fresh coat of paint solved that problem. “They wouldn’t let him have oil paintings!” Ryan told us. “So he had to have photographs.”

Boehner also left behind a few cases of his cherished merlot, which isn’t Ryan’s drink of choice. “So I’m thinking about giving gifts out to members who do good things. A bottle of Boehner Merlot every time they do something. So I’m trying to think of a prize.”


MIT economist Jonathan Gruber testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, before the House Oversight Committee health care hearing. Congressional Democrats charged Tuesday that Republicans are seizing on a health adviser’s self-described “thoughtless” and misleading remarks to attack President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Morale among HK’s top civil servants ‘decaying’ claims letter to minister

January 29, 2015

Letter from body that represents 3,000 senior officers slams government for failing to act over pay amid increased stress from political unrest

By Niall Fraser
South China Morning Post

Signed by representatives of hundreds of senior public servants across more than a dozen government departments, the letter hints strongly that the long-held principle of civil service political neutrality could be at stake, while poking fun at the speed of the January 16 decision. Photo: Nora Tam

Morale among the senior ranks of Hong Kong’s 170,000-strong civil service is “decaying” amid government inaction over pay and the stress of maintaining political neutrality in an increasingly divided city, the head of the Civil Service Bureau has been warned.

Representatives of more than 3,000 senior civil servants have slammed “bureaucratic procrastination” over moves for pay parity with the private sector as they tackle a growing tide of “reasonable and unreasonable” demands from the public.

They say inaction over their long-standing pay claim stands in stark contrast to the speed at which a controversial decision was taken on January 16 to restore the salaries of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, his politically appointed officials and executive councillors to the levels of 2009 when officials took a pay cut amid economic hard times.

The warnings came in a strongly worded letter sent to Secretary for the Civil Service Paul Tang Kwok-wai on Monday.

Signed by representatives of hundreds of senior public servants across more than a dozen government departments , the letter – obtained by the South China Morning Post – hints strongly that the long-held principle of civil service political neutrality could be at stake, while poking fun at the speed of the January 16 decision.

It says: “Months have passed since the publication of the Pay Level Survey report [which recommended private sector pay parity]. No action has been taken by the administration. This inevitably adds to mounting frustration and decaying morale.”

It adds that while moves to implement parity seem lost in a “mist of bureaucratic procrastination” the restoration of the pay of Leung and his officials was “swiftly remedied … with an unprecedented efficiency”.

Last night a Civil Service Bureau spokesman confirmed they had received the letter and said: “We will seek the advice of the Standing Committee on Disciplined Services Salaries and Conditions of Service and the Standing Committee on Directorate Salaries and Conditions of Service on how the survey findings should be applied.

“It also takes time to consult staff bodies. The letter, together with views we have received from other civil service bodies, will be taken into account when we formulate our recommendations for consideration by the Executive Council in due course.”

The letter – put together by the Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association – also makes an oblique reference to the societal divisions caused by the Occupy Central protests and the implications for those responsible for executing public policy.

“In carrying out our duties to implement government policies, senior civil servants have borne the brunt of mounting public outcries, reasonable or unreasonable as these might be,” the letter says.

It adds pointedly: “The principle of ‘political neutrality’ has been steadfastly upheld.”

No one from the Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association was available for comment.

Hong Kong: Unpopular Chief Executive One of Highest Paid “National Leaders” in the World

January 23, 2015


Because he’s worth it. (Reuters/Bobby Yip)

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recently announced pay raise, to a paltry $22,300 a year, sparked plenty of skepticism that the leader of the world’s largest economy (maybe) was actually earning such a small sum. And Xi’s salary is especially jarring when you consider that the leaders of the special administrative regions China oversees are some of the world’s most well-paid politicians.

Hong Kong’s chief executive CY Leung—who oversees a population of about 7 million people, smaller than nearly all of China’s “Tier 1″ cities—is the world’s second-highest paid head of state. Leung, who is deeply unpopular among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, recently lifted a lawmaker pay freeze instituted in 2009.

Macau’s chief executive Fernando Chui, who oversees a population of just 566,000 and ran uncontested in 2009, also earns more than most leaders of the world’s biggest economies. His attempts to give more perks to political appointees resulted in the city’s largest protests in years this past summer.

All salaries above were converted to US dollars at Jan. 22 exchange rates, and generally don’t include perks like housing, transportation, food and support staff that are generally included with the position. Some salaries have been hit hard by currency fluctuations, like Russian president Vladimir Putin’s.

The Hong Kong chief executive’s high salary has its roots in colonial times—the last head of the city before the 1997 handover from the British to the Chinese, Governor Christopher Patten, was paid $273,000 a year, “chauffeured about in a Rolls-Royce that bears a crown instead of a license plate,” and given “a 90-foot yacht, a weekend villa, and a household staff of 56,” as The New York Times reported (paywall) when Patten took the job in 1992. Despite the high salary, which was set by the colony and criticized in the UK, few coveted his job, the Times reported, because of perceived difficultly balancing demands from leaders in London and Britain.

Things didn’t change much with the handover to Beijing, at least when it came to paying the city’s leaders. Patten’s successor, Tung Chee-hwa, a Beijing-approved shipping magnate, was paid over $378,500 a year at the end of his tenure. His successor Donald Tsang, a career civil servant-turned finance secretary, earned a higher wage still.

The disparity between what Xi is earning, and what his much-less powerful counterparts in Macau and Hong Kong bring home, is all the more glaring given China’s recent government austerity drive, and Beijing’s heavy-handed attempts force Hong Kong to adhere to Beijing’s rules on matters such as free speech and freedom of the press. When it comes to public leaders’ pay, at least, “one country, two systems” appears to be alive and well.


From January 17, 2015
South China Morning Post

Chief executive’s salary will go up 5.68 per cent after he backed out of a promise made during tougher economic times

The move means Leung's salary will rise by 5.68 per cent from HK$351,880 a month to HK$371,885. Photo: Sam Tsang

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made a U-turn on a promise to freeze his own pay and that of his cabinet ministers, after the government announced late last night a return to levels approved in 2002 by the Legislative Council.

The move means Leung’s salary will rise by 5.68 per cent, from HK$351,880 a month to HK$371,885. A government spokesman said the new level would come into effect from the first of next month.

Before he took office, Leung pledged not to go ahead with a pay rise initiated by predecessor Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

“In 2009, with regard to the socioeconomic conditions at the time, the then-chief executive and politically appointed officials took a voluntary pay cut of 5.38 per cent … to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people,” the spokesman said. “The economy has since turned around.”

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung called the move “unwise”.

“There’s still a strong grievance among the public, especially after the ‘umbrella movement’,” he said, adding any pay rise should not happen until Leung showed results, and there was little promise shown in his policy address two days ago.

Meanwhile, with the Lunar New Year still a month away, civil servants may also get an early lai see after lawmakers gave their long-awaited, post-filibustering approvals to the government’s funding request for pay rises that will be backdated to April.

But low-income households must wait at least another 15 months to get new allowances of up to HK$1,000, however, as the welfare minister says preparatory work is needed before launching the plan to help working families.

Two-year-old Yee Yee joins her mother outside Legco yesterday to call for progress on the low-income family allowance. Photo: Sam Tsang

Pan-democrats said they had not meant to block requests to benefit the grass roots and criticised the government for refusing to bring forward the discussion of less controversial items.

“The administration will try to speed up the preparation and administrative procedures to roll out the scheme as soon as possible,” Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told lawmakers yesterday.

After months of delay, the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee agreed yesterday to give civil servants in the middle and lower salary bands a 4.71 per cent pay rise, and those in the directorate and upper salary bands 5.96 per cent more.

The salary adjustments, totalling HK$8.9 billion, received Executive Council approval last year, but the pan-democrat filibustering stalled them from being approved, as usual, in the summer.

At the four-hour meeting, legislators sped up scrutiny of the funding requests so the government could deliver the adjusted wages, backdated to the start of the current financial year, to more than 160,000 civil servants at the end of this month.

However, staff at the government’s subvented organisations, such as schools and the Hospital Authority, might need to wait for one or two more months because of administrative procedures, Secretary for the Civil Service Paul Tang Kwok-wai said.

The committee also granted the use of HK$110 million to prepare for the new low-income working family allowance scheme, which targets households with at least one member in full-time employment.

The plan was announced in Leung’s policy address last year.

More than 200,000 families stand to benefit from the HK$3-billion-a-year scheme, subject to a variety of means tests.

They will receive a retrospective payment of six months from the date of application, but Cheung said 15 to 18 months of preparation would be needed.