ESF teachers protest against pay cut
More than two-thirds of English Schools Foundation teachers petitioned their management yesterday, rejecting pay and benefit cuts of 10 per cent.
ESF chiefs responded by agreeing to talks next week.
Around 325 teachers queued outside the Stubbs Road headquarters in Wan Chai to deliver letters of protest to chief executive Heather Du Quesnay. A further 300 who could not attend in person signed letters delivered by colleagues.
Julian Harniess, chairman of the Association of Professional Teachers of ESF Schools, was pleased with the turnout. 'Before, I don't think the ESF had got the idea there was this strength of feeling,' he said. 'It sends the message that we are willing to talk, we are prepared to negotiate.'
Mr Harniess met Ms Du Quesnay after the demonstration. Representatives of the association and management would meet for the first time next week, he said.
He warned that teachers were in no mood to cave in, as they had over the 4.42 per cent cut implemented in the last year. A legal challenge was also being considered.
'A lot of people here will leave Hong Kong because they will not be able to afford to stay,' he said. 'We understand the need for change. What we are against is blindfold, swingeing cuts without prior consultation.'
As she watched the letters being posted, Ms Du Quesnay said: 'What this tells us is that they don't want their pay cut by 10 per cent. But that does not mean it's not necessary.'
The government subvention, which accounts for 27 per cent of ESF income, was at risk if it did not demonstrate it was well managed, which included dealing with its high salaries, she said.
'The audit report, Legco Public Accounts Committee and Arthur Li [Kwok-cheung, secretary for education and manpower] have made that clear.'
Auditors found ESF teachers earned an average $947,400 a year in 2003-04, compared with $391,000 to $813,000 in seven international schools. Teachers in aided and government schools are paid $193,980 to $741,180.
Ms Du Quesnay insisted: 'We will never underpay our teachers. At the final point, they will still be the best paid in Hong Kong.'
She had plans for a new management structure, with teachers' roles more clearly defined and paid for, and salaries reviewed annually against the market for teachers. While the 10 per cent cut was the target, how it was achieved was open to negotiation. 'I am sure there will be changes.'
She dismissed accusations that consultation on the issue was a charade. 'It is a true consultation. But I need people to give me clear information and rational arguments as to why we should be doing it in a different way.'
She reiterated that managers would be subject to a similar pay review, implemented alongside that for teachers next September.
Martin Alexander who has taught at Island School for 18 years, said: 'There is a real fear that the wonderful things about our kids and our schools - the dynamism, the energy, the stuff that keeps people working and makes it a real pleasure - are being threatened.
'If they win this battle they will lose the war in the sense of what makes the ESF special will go.'
Consultation over the proposals, which include a 5 per cent pay cut for all teachers, reducing gratuity from 25 per cent to 20 per cent of salary and cutting other benefits, continues until October 14.