While there is growing concern in society about the performance of members of the Legislative Council in the discharge of their official duties, it is not too often considered that how lawmakers fulfill their duties actually depends not only on their own competence but also, in many cases, on the hard work of their assistants.
Indeed, how well a lawmaker can put together a good team of assistants would very much determine his or her job performance. Sadly, the position of personal assistant (PA) to a Legco member is neither a promising nor decently paid job, particularly in the case of those working for lawmakers who were elected in the geographical constituencies.
Unlike those elected through the functional constituencies, popularly elected lawmakers often have to earmark a significant portion of their reimbursable allowances (i.e., no more than HK$2.65 million per year) for running their regional offices and paying their regional staff.
As a result, it is rather common for PAs to popularly elected lawmakers working in their head offices to suffer from low pay and disproportionate workload.
For example, 60 percent of the PAs, or 261 of them, in the current term of Legco are getting paid less than HK$20,000 a month.
Under the current practice, the salary level of Legco PAs is measured and adjusted based on Consumer Price Index C (“CPIc”), which means their annual pay rise cannot exceed 1.5 percent this year, and that is far lower than the 2.88 percent enjoyed by low to medium-ranking civil servants.
Worse still, unlike other jobs in the civil service or the private sector, PAs to lawmakers don’t have a clear career path, not to mention that they could lose their job if their bosses either get disqualified by the court or fail to get re-elected.
As a result, the turnover of staff among popularly elected lawmakers has remained high over the years. The low pay and basically zero job security of PAs also mean that a lot of talented young people are put off by the job. This, in turn, is taking a heavy toll not only on the job performance of lawmakers but also on the overall quality of their policy research.
Therefore, I am sincerely calling on both the public and the Independent Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Executive Council and the Legislature, and officials under the Political Appointment System to pay attention to the poor employment conditions of Legco PAs and redress the situation promptly.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 19
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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