It’s that time of the year again. Water spontaneously oozes from every concrete pore of every building, leaving an embarrassing damp patch stretching all the way from Pokfulam to Quarry Bay. Battalions of cockroaches push and shove their way out of drains and alleyways, pausing briefly to blink in the daylight before executing their giant annual pincer movement around the whole city. And – by far the worst of all – tiresome clichéd self-interest masquerading as public-spiritedness spouts from the mouths of scoundrels and wastrels.
Former government officials insist on ‘serving the community’, whether the community wants it or not. Legislator Regina Ip has been loudly proclaiming her determination to ‘serve’ us for a while now, daydreaming of being Chief Executive, and now angling for a post in the next government. All in our interests, of course.
She is not alone. It is hard to see how someone who manages to spectacularly lose a rigged make-believe election can be of much help to anyone, except maybe a writer of tragic comedy. But there he is: Henry Tang, announcing with a straight face that after all his basement/wife and other disasters, he wishes to ‘serve the public’. (Serve a sentence, perhaps. And by one of those cosmic coincidences that fill our lives with unceasing wonder, what arrives on my desk at this very moment but a second-hand copy of You Are Going to Prison from Amazon?)
Meanwhile, that old spurious, hypocritical, whining, lame attempt at emotional blackmail ‘civil service morale’ rears its head again, with the inevitable price-tag attached. The government actually takes ‘civil service morale’ into consideration when deciding on what it blandly calls the bureaucracy’s pay adjustments. Other factors include “net pay trend indicators … the state of Hong Kong’s economy, the Government’s fiscal position, changes in the cost of living [and, ludicrously] the staff sides’ pay claims.” Does anyone – anyone working in the private sector, perhaps – notice something missing from this list? A word beginning with ‘P’?
As numerous commentators have noted over the years, no-one else in Hong Kong seems to have morale, or at least morale problems. Not the population as a whole, nor socio-economic or geographical groups within it. So far as we see or hear, elderly men condemned to living in cages or families having to bring up kids in subdivided slums somehow manage to keep their spirits up. But enjoy job security, allowances, salary levels shockingly higher than private-sector equivalents, plus free pensions on full salary for life, and you become a psychological wreck unless you are pampered and worshipped and spoon-fed and reassured every hour of the day. No wonder they can’t drag themselves away from ‘serving the community’.
Actually, one segment of our capable, determined, can-do, non-state-employed citizenry suffers from self-centred, infantile poor-pitiful-me syndrome: Cathay Pacific flying staff. On the radio the other morning, the news team gave CX management around 10 seconds to explain why they were offering cabin crew voluntary unpaid leave – a popular option among those who want a sabbatical – followed by what seemed like an hour of some union leader droning away about how awful it would be if such a scheme were compulsory, oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t.
CX crew have their own equivalent of ‘civil service morale’ emotional blackmail. The same union leader is now bleating about her members having to work round-trips back to Hong Kong on regional routes. The stress and strain, she insists, could jeopardize passenger safety. (Quick reminder: the work is essentially light waitressing.) No, what is really at jeopardy here – we might conjecture because we’re nasty that way – is cabin crews’ overnight allowances, which are hefty and paid in cash so the Hong Kong tax authorities don’t know about it.
You might think that the big, tough, highly qualified, often military-trained guys in Cathay’s cockpits might be less prone to whimpering about every little inconvenience that comes their way. But in today’s Standard the awful truth comes out: some of the poor little mites travel between duty stations on cargo flights, and even sleep on the floor!
I’ve been on one of these freighters. People hitching a ride on one do not get shoved down in the cold, dark metallic bottom of the fuselage, squatting between containers of electronics and shipments of seafood. The bubble behind the cockpit has low-density business-class seating, with restroom and, if I recall, a small galley. It’s nicer than a passenger flight. And, yes, that means you can stretch out on the floor. But the pilots’ union is talking of taking the airline to court. If the poor, highly sensitive and vulnerable wretches have to take positioning flights without a choice between fish and chicken, 25 movie channels and a neck massage, there will be tantrums, foot-stamping and ‘questions about flight safety’. Then you’ll all be sorry.