'We hope to signal that we will seriously deal with colleagues whose work performance is not up to standard'
The Hong Kong government is proposing a new mechanism that will streamline the process to terminate civil service officers whose performances are "persistently sub-standard."
"Improving and strengthening the handling of persistent non-performers is one of the key measures to further enhance civil service management. The procedures of the current mechanism are too complicated and lengthy," Civil Service Secretary Ingrid Yeung said.
"We have reviewed and streamlined the procedures under the principle of impartiality and fairness in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the mechanism and keep up with the times."
In Hong Kong, officers who are not meeting the required performance standard will be counselled and trained to help improve. Persistent underperformance, however, will result to the employee's termination.
Reduced representation opportunities
As part of the proposed streamlined process, the government is reducing from four to two the number of times civil servants can represent themselves and refute allegations of underperformance.
The first major representation will be after the bureau or department employing the officer issues a letter of intent informing the employee that they will likely be retired on the grounds of persistent sub-standard performance.
The second representation will take place once the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) has consulted the Public Service Commission and is about to seek a decision from the approving authority.
These will be "sufficient opportunities" for the employee to make representations that will be considered by the decision-making authority, according to the Hong Kong government.
Observation period changes for poor performance
The "observation period" for poorly performing employees will also see changes, according to the government.
The observation period is a specific period given to a persistent sub-standard performer so they can show improvement.
Under the proposed process, this observation period can only be extended once and for specific circumstances only to reduce delays and management's hesitation on making decisions.
The changes will also scrap the involvement of an "independent panel" within the department to review the staff who are consistently underperforming.
"Setting up an 'independent panel' will not provide substantive support but will only prolong the processing time of the case," the government said in a bulletin.
Union warns of impact on morale
Following the announcement, the Federation of Civil Service Unions issued a warning that the move to streamline the process could have negative consequences on employees' morale.
"The streamlined mechanism only serves to give a deterrent effect to underperformers, but they should be dealt with in a fair and square manner," said federation chairman Leung Chau-ting as quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
According to Leung, persistent underperformers should be given at least three chances to represent themselves and refute unfavourable appraisals. The chairman also criticised the removal of the independent panel from the process, saying it would leave the worker alone to refute the department's allegations.
"If there were a third party to make the call, it would leave hardly any room for the department to dispute," Leung said.
Yeung, however, disagreed that the proposed streamlined process would impact morale.
"By streamlining the mechanism, we hope to signal that we will seriously deal with colleagues whose work performance is not up to standard, and hope that colleagues will 'wake up' themselves and do better," the secretary said as quoted by the SCMP.
The proposed changes are expected to impact around 174,000 who are on public payroll. In the last five years, 16 cases of had been processed, where four got to keep their jobs, seven resigned voluntarily, and two were forced to retire, according to the SCMP.