Public offices in China used to be hailed as secure, lucrative and privileged positions. But with the implementation of 15 bans that cover almost all aspects of civil servants’ life and work from food to transportation, and from moon cakes to holiday allowance beginning 2013, the group of around seven million public servants is experiencing hard times. And their calls for pay rise are also facing strong opposition from the public.
“We didn’t receive any holiday allowance in 2013. It usually could amount to around 3,500 yuan (or USD 564.5) in previous years. For civil servants in western China, it’s a substantial amount,” Yan Kai, a staff from a tax bureau in Gansu Province told the reporter from China News Service.
Ge Xing, a civil servant from a maritime administration directly controlled by the Ministry of Transport, said his basic salary and allowance had considerably shrunk in 2013. “In my working unit, families with both parents working now could only earn as much as one-earner families in the past.”
With the shrinking of welfare and perks in 2013, public servants began to ask for pay rises, which stirred a public debate across the country.
Many young generations of civil servants claimed that they are a group with high pressure, low pay and now being misunderstood. A recent survey of 100 civil servants across China showed that 93 of them thought it was “quite difficult to work in a public office”.
The survey also hinted that a part of the group is now considering leaving office, raising concerns about a new wave of departures by public service staff.
Some observers in the field recognized that the central government is gradually depriving civil servants of their privileges and “special treatments”.
Some foreign media pointed out the frustrated group is just throwing a tantrum because they were ‘spoiled’ in the past. In their opinion, the new bans aim to take back power and authority from those who do not deserve it, and it’s time for the flattered group to be realistic. The People’s Daily, an official media, claimed the bans intend to “stop the corrupt ones, activate the inactive ones and punish the bad ones.”
Some NPC and CPPCC members are calling for pay rise for civil servants, although they have gained little support till now. A poll of 2,000 netizens showed that 62.3% of those surveyed opposed giving any pay rise to public service staff which contrasts with the common view held by most public workers that they are underpaid.
Gao Wenshu, director of the Human Resources Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China News Service, “In the backdrop of extreme disparity between the rich and poor, public opinion tends to regard civil servants as high income groups equipped with off-the-books incomes.”
Many civil servants at the grassroots level pointed out the public opinion have confused them with corrupt government officials.
Gao agreed, “Factually, the average salaries for civil servants in China is at the same level as the average wage of the society as a whole.” He referred to the salary rankings of 19 professions, in which public service position was ranked the eighth in 2008, while by 2011, the position had gone down to the twelfth rank.
So, as Gao put it, the problem is there is no fair mechanism to modify pay for civil servants.
Lost group in the system
The reality is that public service staff are complaining more than just the pay.
“Civil servants only have slim promotion opportunities. On the one hand, you have to wait in line for it, and on the other hand, if you want to excel among your peers, good relationships with superiors are required,” said Yan Kai, who expected to be promoted one grade up in eight years. For him, this is already an optimistic expectation.
Apparently, there is no fair competition mechanism for civil servants either, and this causes the group to lose opportunities.
Except for the pressure to get promotion, office politics is another major concern of the group.
Li Jie used to be a civil servant in Jiangsu Province. He noted that compared with commercial entities and public institutions, interpersonal relationships in government agencies tend to be more sensitive and complicated.
At the end of last year, Li quit his job as a civil servant and went back to his hometown to become a middle school teacher. “When I was in public service, friends and relatives looked up at me and my vanity was flattered. Now, when I become a common teacher, the working environment makes my life simpler and happier.”
China began to implement a national civil service system from 1993. In the past two decades, a group of over seven million talents joined the system during its transformation from just providing secure jobs to offering royal positions. Now, when the splendor is fading away, it’s time to make the system more complete and realistic.
The article is tranlated and edited from a story by China News Service.