'Iron rice bowls' may be relics in civil service

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More future civil servants are being expected to trade in their "iron rice bowls" - a metaphor for lifetime job security - and instead agree to work for the government on limited contracts.

A recruitment plan announced on Monday for civil servants in Shanghai has opened up five jobs on fixed-term contracts, ranging from one to five years, at the city's financial service office and other offices at the district level.

Unlike traditional civil servants who expect to hold onto their positions for life, their fixed-term counterparts face the risk of losing their jobs once their contracts expire, leaving employers and employees to decide whether to renew them.

Fixed-term contracts were first offered to civil servants in 2007 in Shanghai's Pudong district, as well as in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. They were intended to reform China's civil service system, which has a reputation for being inefficient and offering little incentive to improve.

Shanghai has now widened the program to encompass the entire city in an effort to attract talent that might otherwise not want to work in government organizations.

In Shenzhen, up to 70 percent of its 35,000 civil servants have been contract-based since 2007, according to media reports.

A recent online poll of 17,000 netizens found that over 50 percent of respondents supported the city's reform of its civil service, which they believe will "greatly improve the local government's efficiency".

The civil service is currently one of the most sought-after occupations in China due to its benefits, including above-average salaries, various subsidies, a good welfare program, not much pressure and a stable work environment.

However, job security in the civil service has led to inefficiency and public discontent with government service.

A civil servant in Shanghai surnamed Li told China Daily he was fed up with the inefficiency of his department and would welcome the opportunity to switch to contract-based employment because it could lead to other opportunities, though he would be hesitant to take a cut in pay and lose his benefit package.

Professor Ren Jin, who specializes in civil service reform at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the central government is keen to expand the reform across the country.

"Under the new system, the government could improve administrative efficiency and retain talent that would otherwise be unwilling to serve life tenures in government organizations. It would also offer them more alternatives for career development," he said.

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