Civil servants reacted with dismay when told they can only expect salary rises of between 2.55 and 3.92 percent based on pay trend survey findings.
The survey, on which the pay rises of 160,000 civil servants are based, charted trends in 109 private companies involving some 180,000 employees between April last year and last month.
It initially estimated that those in the lower band - who earn HK$17,835 or less a month - should get a pay rise of 3.92 percent.
Those in the middle band - between HK$17,836 and HK$54,665 a month - should get an increase of 3.92 percent, while those earning between HK$54,666 and HK$109,365 a month should get a raise of 2.55 percent.
As such, a police inspector earning HK$35,335 a month will get HK$36,720 and an office clerk currently on HK$11,520 will get HK$11,972.
Emerging from a meeting of the Pay Trend Survey Committee, Li Wai-yee, staff side chairwoman of the Model Scale I Staff Consultative Council, which represents junior civil servants, said it was disappointing.
"We are quite disappointed over the pay-rise indicators. It doesn't have to match inflation - about 4 percent early this year - but we still wish that living doesn't have to be so tight," she said.
Disciplined Services Consultative Council representative Ngai Sik-shui said the indicator is far below the inflation rate.
But he added this would not affect staff morale as that does not depend on pay alone.
Ngai said the council - which earlier asked for a 7 percent pay rise - will have to digest the findings over the weekend and discuss the issue on Wednesday.
Li Kwai-yin, a representative of the staff side of the Senior Civil Service Council, said the government will consider morale and inflation before finalizing the pay hike.
A union source said it is unlikely that the various associations will act in concert over the pay rises.
Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, which was not included in the official consultation, said: "We are disappointed that the pay-rise indicator is below what we expected. However, we still respect the mechanism that pay hikes are based on the survey results."
A junior civil servant in the Civil Service Bureau, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was more than satisfied.
"Of course I am happy. Who will not be? An increase in salary no matter how small is always a good thing."
Survey committee chairman Wilfred Wong Kam-pui said the poll was conducted in a professional and credible manner. The committee will meet again next week to finalize their findings before sending them to the government.
A spokesman for the Civil Service Bureau said the indicators are one of the factors that the Chief Executive-in- Council will consider in deciding whether and how to adjust pay for 2013-14. The other factors are the "economy, the government's fiscal position, changes in the cost of living, staff side pay claims and civil service morale."
Centaline Human Resources Consultants managing director Alexa Chow Yee-ping observed that the indicator for the upper band is low this time "because investment banks have not sharply increased their management staff salaries due to uncertainties in the global economic environment."
Last year civil servants in the upper and lower bands were given pay rises of 5.2 and 5.8 percent respectively.