Worries grow over plan to axe housing benefits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 12:00am

University staff have voiced fears about losing their housing benefits following the government's plan to de-link their salaries from the civil service pay scale from July 1.

Universities will have the right to decide whether to offer housing benefits, and in whatever forms, to staff appointed on or after that date.

Existing staff will not be affected, according to a paper submitted by the Education and Manpower Bureau to the Legislative Council education panel this week.

Currently, 73 per cent of the eligible staff are on the government home financing scheme, which entitles them to buy or rent a flat. Others either receive free accommodation in staff quarters or private tenancy allowances.

But chairman of the Polytechnic University's Staff Association, Chan Chun-wah, called on the university to make a public pledge that benefits of existing staff would not be curtailed.

'Staff who are on short-term contracts could lose their benefits when they are re-appointed. Would they be treated as new appointees then? Management needs to clarify this.' More than half of PolyU staff are on contracts.

Dr Kwan Hoi-shan, president of Chinese University's Teachers' Association, shared his concern that contract staff or those who are promoted to a new position could be vulnerable to cuts in housing benefits.

Housing costs make up the bulk of subsidies, which also include an education allowance, enjoyed by academic staff.

Dr Kwan is adopting a wait-and-see attitude on what will happen to the overall allowance. In the current year, $650 million of the government's block grant for the university sector is to be spent on staff housing. The government has said it would not provide top-up funding for that purpose.

Secretary for Education and Manpower Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said existing staff who became eligible for the home financing scheme later on would still be entitled to the benefit.

Henry Wai Wing-kun, University of Hong Kong's registrar, said: 'If we are talking about attracting world-class scholars to Hong Kong, we need to provide housing for them.'