PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 12:00am

EMB in state of confusion over special allowance adjustments

There seem to be some contradictions regarding the reasons behind the cuts to the native English-speaking teachers' special allowance.

The allowance was initially cut as housing rental costs fell. Firstly, the special allowance was never specifically a housing allowance. It was to provide for all the 'special' things required by a foreigner working in Hong Kong. This would include housing, education fees (which rise each year) and the fact that spouses are not allowed to work.

Regarding maintaining the cuts for the present contracts, the Education and Manpower Bureau's Sam Hui Chark-shum (Education Post, May 14) said, 'We do not think we have sufficient justification for adjusting the special allowance upward without support from objective statistical data.' One wonders what sort of data Mr Hui would require. The South China Morning Post reported on March 16 that tenants could expect to pay about 30 per cent more than in 2003. Centaline Property Agency senior research manager Wong Leung-sing said the worst was yet to come for tenants.

The EMB assured Legco (November 17, 2003) that the rate of special allowance would be adjusted annually based on the yearly percentage change in the local private housing rental index. I'm not sure quite how this is supposed to work when I sign a two-year contract. Will I get an adjustment halfway through?

The EMB told Legco that 'the adjustment mechanism would enable it to make adjustments to reflect the change in cost for accommodation in Hong Kong in the future'. The meaning of this seems perfectly clear to all except Mr Hui, whose rent will remain static for the next two years.

At the discussion with Legco, Tommy Cheung expressed support for the NET Scheme and the proposed adjustment mechanism. He, however, expressed concern as to whether the introduction of a mechanism would have a negative effect on recruitment and retention of NETs in the long run. The EMB representative responded that he considered that the remuneration package approved by the Finance Committee in 1997 was attractive to NETs.

Of course, there have been numerous cuts since 1997, not to mention changes to the exchange rate and the special allowance, so the package isn't so attractive for 2005-2006.

It has also been reported that there has been a crisis with the retention of primary NETs, at just 50 per cent. At the Legco meeting Cheung Man-kwong expressed support for the proposed mechanism for annual adjustments of the special allowance for NETs on the condition that the current turnover rate of NETs remained stable, the recruitment of NETs was reasonably secure, and the EMB would consult NETs on the proposed mechanism. He said that the administration should consult the panel should there be any changes in the turnover rate and recruitment of NETs and problems in communication with NETs. A large number of NETs signed a petition against the recent cuts (South China Morning Post, May 14). I wonder if the panel has been informed about this.

It was reported that the EMB is looking at improving the gratuity offered in future contracts, presumably to improve retention (which it told Legco was not a problem). The new system will not be offered in the new contracts as there is no time to inform Legco. So, the EMB will talk about something which will be offered, but not actually offer anything. How will this help NETs' morale? This should have been discussed when the EMB first made the cuts and there was time to consult (which is what Legco asked it to do).

Of course, NETs are not sure what will happen as there are no contracts so far and by the time we decide not to sign them it will be too late to recruit replacements from overseas. However, the EMB did assure Legco that it had 'established a supply queue of quality NETs' who are presumably just sitting around in their home countries waiting for the call a month before the new school year begins. They can come to replace the extremely competent NETs already working here successfully who left because the EMB couldn't afford them.


ESF no match for British schools

A hearty thank you to the author of the letter (Education Post, May 14) that blew the myth of English Schools Foundation exam excellence out of the window. The fact is that ESF secondary schools produce indifferent exam results, often in subjects that are academically undemanding.

I am delighted that the author of this letter, a British-based educator with ESF experience, has told ill-informed parents the truth about the under-performing system.

As a consumer of both products, there is no comparison between the best British independent schools and anything that the ESF can offer; from academic achievement to sport, and art to pastoral care.


Tai Po


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