Non-Civil Service Contract Staff Scheme -- A Flexible Tool at Department's Disposal
In this second issue, the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) has picked a hot topic of the town -- the employment of non-civil service contract (NCSC) staff. CSB explains below the flexibility in employing NCSC staff, shares with us the experience of some departments in the use of this flexible tool and highlights the need for staff consultation and training in human resources practices.

In response to the call for further human resource flexibility, CSB promulgated Circular No. 2/99 in January 1999 that sets out the framework for Heads of Department/Grade to employ NCSC staff. Under the framework, Departments/Grades have utmost flexibility in terms of -
(a) Pay package: decide on the level of pay and offer end-of-contract gratuity at rates of up to 10% or 15% of basic salary (depending on types of work) provided that the pay (excluding gratuity, if any) is no more than the minimum salary of comparable civil service rank.
(b)  Contract duration: offer contracts up to 3 years.
(c)  Hire and fire: free to design their own recruitment procedures and adjust staff numbers in view of changes in levels and modes of service demands. 

For other employment terms and benefits, Departments/ Grades are required to follow the provisions of the Employment Ordinance, the Employees' Compensation Ordinance and the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance (when the relevant provisions commence operation by 2000). 

How Some Departments Make Use of This Tool 
Implementation of the NCSC staff scheme is still at its early stage. We would like to share with you some initial experience in departments in the use of this flexible tool.

Types of Suitable Work 
Some departments have started examining their operations comprehensively with a view to identifying areas of their services that could be undertaken by NCSC staff. These could be -
(a)  seasonal or fluctuating workload
(b)  fixed-term projects
(c) nature of services or mode of delivery that may change in the future, e.g. supporting functions in departments, especially those where information technology and other innovations will certainly evolutionise the way the functions are being carried out.

As a result of the announced freeze on civil service recruitment from 1 April 1999, if bureaux and departments need additional staff to cover short term service or operational needs, they should only recruit non-civil servants on NCSC terms, except for those civil service posts or grades with exemption approval. These non-civil servants should not fill an established office in the Civil Service, but should provide support to bureaux and departments in their operation. This is meant to be a temporary measure pending the Civil Service Reform.

Pay $$$
(a) Absence of benchmark
Some departments have expressed concerns that in the absence of benchmarks, they feel uneasy to recruit NCSC staff. However, we are aware that some departments are actively addressing this concern by -

(a) gauging the market salary rates by checking with employment agencies and 
     recruitment advertisements, etc. 
(b) looking for pay surveys conducted by third parties for relevant information. 

Departments may need time to accumulate experience in finding the "right" market level of pay that could help them attract and recruit sufficient qualified candidates, especially for jobs where direct comparability in the private sector is not readily available.

(b) Different pay level by different departments 

Another concern is different departments offer different employment packages for similar jobs. This is inevitable if flexibility in pay is allowed. We do not think that setting benchmark is a good solution because while setting benchmark might remove inconsistencies, it would also remove flexibility. If departments feel that some common understanding on the pay range is necessary, they are encouraged to exchange views among themselves. This perhaps could more easily be done between departments through either formal or informal channels. CSB is ready to assist in establishing the communication channel if necessary.

Departments are free to design their own recruitment procedures for NCSC staff provided that they satisfy themselves on the principle of fairness and openness. Of utmost importance is that there should be proper checks and balances in the process to minimise the risk of corruption. With that in mind, quite a few departments are exploring different means of recruitment - Local Employment Services of Labour Department, recruitment agencies, walk-in interviews, etc. Needless to say, the recruitment criteria should be relevant to the job requirements and objective tests should be set as far as possible.

Management of Mixed Staff
An issue that is often raised is the management of mixed staff and especially on the division of work between civil servants and NCSC staff. There is no across-the-board solution. Some practices/considerations adopted by a few departments are : 
(a) deploying civil servants who are more experienced on supervisory duties, 
     especially in supervising NCSC staff and training them; 
(b) deploying NCSC staff to specific areas of work as distinct from civil servants,
     especially areas where the service needs could be fluctuating; and 
(c) forming multi-functional teams comprising both civil servants and NCSC staff 
     for deploying on specific tasks or projects. 

The actual arrangement, of course, will have to be decided by individual departments having regard to their own circumstances.

Staff Consultation
We would like to stress the need for consultation with staff -- an important area that is sometimes easily overlooked. It is only natural that serving staff might be worried about changes and impact on their job. To enhance understanding, departmental management should as far as possible make known their strategies and plans to staff and address any staff concerns and worries at an early stage. Productivity enhancement will necessarily be the joint efforts of management and staff. 

Training Practices in Human Resources (HR) 
Under the NCSC scheme, departments are expected to act like individual HR units of subsidiaries in a group company. While general policy and framework are set by the group HR unit, individual HR units are required to fill in the gaps (in pay and other details of recruitment) within the framework to suit their own operational needs and circumstances.

To enhance understanding of the employment-related legislation, the Civil Service Training and Development Institute (CSTDI) organised two seminars in January and February 1999 for departmental secretaries and their deputies. The response was overwhelming. CSTDI will continue to monitor and respond to the training needs of departments and conduct more intensive workshops for human resource managers. Departments which have specific suggestions or needs are encouraged to approach CSTDI for advice on how to obtain the necessary training for their personnel staff.

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