ESF staff pay cuts
A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines
What are all these rumours about ESF teachers striking?
Just rumours. There's no strike. Rather, a group of English Schools Foundation (ESF) teachers are going to hand in a letter on Wednesday objecting to a 10 per cent cut in pay and perks that management have asked them to accept.
Will lessons be disrupted?
No. The Association of Professional Teachers of ESF Schools, which is organising the action, gave an assurance that pupils' education would not be affected in any way.
So everything will carry on at ESF schools as normal?
Well, not exactly. The association fell short of giving any assurance that extra-curricular activities would be unaffected, so don't bank on music lessons or school trips later in the term if this drags on. But there's nothing planned yet.
Why are ESF teachers being asked to take a pay cut anyway?
To save money and to stop the government from cutting the ESF's $278 million a year subsidy, which accounts for 28 per cent of ESF income. The government has already made it clear it wants the ESF to be leaner and better run if the subsidy is to continue.
Why pick on the teachers?
Isn't it the management who fritter money away?
Well, there was a case a couple of years ago when three ESF executives allegedly tried to claim a lunch which included 12 oysters and two bottles of wine on expenses. But since then there's been a big shake-up. There may be no management pay cuts just now, but you're unlikely to see the directors eating in DotCod or drinking in the FCC these days unless they're paying for themselves.
ESF teachers are overpaid anyway aren't they?
It depends what you mean by overpaid. Auditors found that in 2003-2004, ESF teachers earned an average $78,950 a month compared to between $32,583 and $67,750 for teachers in seven other international schools in Hong Kong. Bear in mind, though, that ESF teachers have all taken a 4.2 per cent pay cut in the two years since that study was conducted.
It's much more than they'd earn in Britain or Australia, surely?
Generally speaking, yes. But they'll tell you that in many cases they've uprooted themselves and their families and given up pension rights to come to Hong Kong. Spouses often can't work because of the recent rule change on dependant visas and Hong Kong's getting more expensive. There are other places overseas to work and ESF recruiters say it's getting hard to find good teachers. Pay cuts will make it harder still.
Whose side are the parents on?
We may find out on Wednesday. The union has asked parents to show their support when they hand in their protest letter. But whether they support the teachers or not they certainly like the schools: apparently there are enough children on the ESF waiting list to fill two schools.