The Hong Kong government has seen 10,100 civil servants leaving their positions due to resignations and retirement in the fiscal year 2022/23, with nearly 4,000 people quitting their jobs voluntarily, Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung told lawmakers on Monday.

The city has experienced a higher turnover of civil servants amid an emigration wave and the introduction of a compulsory oath of allegiance to the government. The turnover rate remained below one per cent in the decade leading up to 2020. But it rose to 2.11 per cent for the year 2021-22, which is double that of 2020-21.

Civil servants. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Civil servants. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The civil service chief said the turnover rate of government workers in 2022-23 stood at 2.2 per cent, adding that it was “similar” to the previous year.

“Nonetheless, the resignation rate has slackened,” Yeung said in a report submitted to Legislative Council (LegCo). She added that retirement was the primary reason for civil servants’ departure, with 5,800 people retiring from their positions.

The government has said that it needed to recruit 192,550 workers, as of March 31, 2023. But it hired only 173,400 people, resulting in a manpower shortage of 19,150.

Civil Servants Central Government Offices
Civil Servants going to work at the Central Government Offices. File photo: GovHK.

“The government will utilise various channels to attract people from diverse backgrounds to join the ranks of civil servants, filling the vacancies resulting from retirements and resignations, “ Yeung said, “This is to ensure an adequate pool of human resources to serve the public, and to have competent talent at different levels.”

Chau Siu-chung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker representing the labour sector, said at LegCo that certain civil servants had informed unions of an increase in workload and pressure. These civil servants also mentioned that they were required to work overtime without receiving any compensation.

“I agree that, currently, the manpower shortage is not ideal, but we can still enhance some measures for recruitment and promotion [for government positions], “ Yeung said, adding that the authorities also tried to simplify recruitment procedures in order to speed up hiring.

Secretary for Civil Service Ingrid Yeung. File photo: GovHK.
Secretary for Civil Service Ingrid Yeung. File photo: GovHK.

Yeung also revealed that around 40 per cent of civil servants resigned during probation. She said the phenomenon should be attributed to young peoples’ desire to experience a variety of different jobs.

She said the government had rolled out initiatives to retain talent, including – for the first time – sending civil servants on probation to mainland China for a national studies course.

Recruitment in universities

To tackle the high attrition rate, the government – as of June 1 – opened recruitment to university students up to two years ahead of their graduation.

According to the report submitted to LegCo, the new measure had resulting in more applications. The number of university students applying for the Common Recruitment Examination and the Basic Law and National Security Law Test more than doubled from 2,500 in June 2023 to 5,300 in October 2023.

PolyU main entrance opening August 24, 2022 students
Hong Kong Polytechnic University student representatives at the opening ceremony of the university’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Among the 5,300 applications, nearly 30 per cent were undergraduate students in the third year of study.

The Civil Service Bureau also organised a series of recruitment seminars in Shanghai and Beijing for the first time this year, aimed at attracting Hong Kong students studying at universities in mainland China.

Corrections:

21/11/2023: An earlier version stated that 101,000 civil servants left their positions due to resignations and retirement in the fiscal year 2022/23. In fact, the figure should have been 10,100. We regret the error.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.