Civil servant unions have urged the government to offer training and clear guidelines to staff regarding a new pledge of allegiance they will be required to make.
Government workers who have joined the Civil Service since July 1 are the first being asked to sign a declaration that they will uphold the Basic Law, be responsible to the Hong Kong government, and remain loyal to the SAR.
Those still on probation will be the next to sign the declaration, with other civil servants to follow suit later on.
But on an RTHK radio show on Tuesday, the heads of two civil servant unions expressed concerns about the plan.
Leung Chau-ting, who heads the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said the vague wording in the declaration and a lack of guidelines mean government workers are worried they might breach it inadvertently when they talk about government policies.
He said recent remarks by Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip about the consequences of breaching the oath have frightened many civil servants.
"When what we said may be in contradiction with the government’s policies, we may have to face criminal liability, or even go to jail. We are just doing a job, and we may just quit in the worst case scenario. You are telling us we could end up in prison, because we might violate the national security law," Leung said.
He also questioned whether union officials could violate the new requirement by urging pay rises for staff, if the government had indicated it was opposed to such a move.
The Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association, meanwhile, said it wants the government to spell out the punishment for anyone who breaches the declaration, as well as the legal basis for the new arrangement.
Li Kwai-yin, who heads the association, said the policy change has been brought in too hastily, and she questioned whether the government had listened to the unions’ views.
She called on the government to provide clear explanations and training for public servants.
“We think that it is very important to ensure that civil servants know all the requirements and will not mistakenly violate the requirements of the government,” she said.
Li added that she believes most civil servants would not intentionally violate the Basic Law or the Civil Service Code, but many may have some grievances towards the government, and authorities need to let them know where the boundaries lie.
In response, a spokesperson for the Civil Service Bureau said it will consult and listen to views from government workers, before deciding on the oath-taking arrangements for existing civil servants.
The spokesperson also said the new requirement would not affect unions' negotiations with the government over salary and benefit issues.
The bureau stressed that civil servants enjoy rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly just like other citizens, but these rights are not absolute and public servants should know the requirements and responsibilities that come with their jobs.
It said anyone who break their oath of office would be dealt with according to the Civil Service rules.
Last updated: 2020-10-13 HKT 16:50