PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am

Q Do you think Hongkongers have an unhealthy lifestyle?

We all seem to have extreme lifestyle patterns and high stress levels. How long does it take anyone in this city to realise that everything we eat here is heavily seasoned? I've been back in Hong Kong for five months after living abroad for more than a decade and I realised every local restaurant regardless of price seems to have over-marinated the food they serve.

Main courses always taste horribly salty or sour. And regardless of whether I order pork or beef, I can taste the seasoning sauce but nothing else. And as for vegetables, I don't think many people care because I don't see any on their plates.

Hong Kong is a great city but I believe there are plenty of lifestyle elements we have to improve on to make this a better place.

Matt Lai, Ma On Shan

Q Should parents be required to finance new school campuses?

No. This topic stimulated me to consider another question. Will the children of the fund providers enjoy the benefits from the expansion of the new campus? I will only analyse this question from the perspective of economics. It takes several years to build a new campus; older students would probably have entered university when the construction is finished. They will not be able to enjoy the benefits from the expansion, so why should their parents help to finance the project.

Parents of younger children should be given the choice of supporting the financing of the project or not. The reason I say this is because I do not believe the international school will maintain the same school fees or the number of admissions after the expansion plan.

We all know the demand for the educational services provided by international schools outweighs its supply. That means after the expansion, the revenue of the international school will increase. After all, it's all about business. I don't understand why the parents should provide financing to the project for free. The school is a profit-making business and should finance its expansion, or they should give reasonable interest to those parents who agree to the finance plan.

Mike Lam Chun-wa, Tai Kok Tsui

Q Should internet service providers help track down illegal file sharers?

Yes, because the illegal file uploads and downloads are very serious in Hong Kong. This is piracy. It totally breaks the law and destroys the music industry.

The Hong Kong music industry has been sending pop-up warning messages to computers illegally downloading. However, it is only education and deterrence. The best method to combat piracy is to seek court action and punish the pirates. However, the Hong Kong music industry can only identify computers and needs service providers to help track down the users.

The music industry and customers are interdependent. If customers download music illegally and don't buy the CDs, the music industry will decay. It leads to a poor quality of music. I hope the internet service providers help track down illegal file sharers and all those who download music illegally.

Andy Yip Chi-shing, Kwun Tong

Q Is the ESF pay-scale proposal fair and necessary?

Here's a cracker of an idea to solve the ESF pay confusion. Pay non-ESF teachers the same wage as ESF teachers. It's that easy. ESF teachers aren't better educators, they're no more experienced, nor are they more highly qualified than others. I am certain that the spread of qualifications and experience is the same at most international schools. Let's face it - you get some 'duds' and you get some highly intelligent, highly qualified and very competent teachers.

But the ESF teachers are merely lucky enough to be part of an organisation that remunerates teachers extremely well, even after the 10 per cent wage reduction. Good luck to them.

Elisabeth Brown, Aberdeen

Heather Du Quesnay promised much when she joined the ESF; a chief executive with expertise in leadership who could take over the helm of an organisation that desperately needed steadying. Instead, she has steered the ESF straight into troubled waters created by her own tempest.

I was appalled by her self-serving gambit 'ESF survival hinges on accepting reality'. When given column inches that she could have used to support her staff and address some of the misinformation which has appeared in the local press, she instead used the opportunity to spread even more inflammatory half-truths.

She says 'teachers have reacted with pain and anger' to the proposed pay cuts but she doesn't acknowledge the fundamental reason why. ESF teachers have all taken a 4.42 per cent pay cut and part of the agreement reached with the ESF during these pay negotiations was that the ESF would set up a Remuneration Study Group (RSG) and both the ESF and teachers would abide by the findings of the group. However, the first recommendations made by the RSG have been completely ignored because they didn't say what Ms Du Quesnay wanted them to. This is, quite frankly, outrageous. How can any ESF employee have confidence in an employer who is not prepared to honour their agreements?

Ms Du Quesnay states that the ESF 'cannot justify' the variety of packages ESF teachers receive. However, her pay recommendations do nothing to address the imbalance. She has found, as have her predecessors, that the contracts are legally binding and she can only tinker with the edges. The inequalities will exist as they always have and she has done nothing to address this. Equity of payment is a sound bite and nothing more - shame on her for perpetuating this lie in your newspaper.

Ms Du Quesnay tries to justify the cuts using many mights and maybes. The government might cut the subvention, parents may not react well to a fee rise, and numbers in ESF schools could fall. The truth is that ESF schools are full to overflowing, the government has not said it will cut the subvention and fees have not risen in five years. However, the truth does not serve Ms Du Quesnay. She is determined that teachers should be paid less because she thinks they are paid a lot so they can afford it.

The debate over whether or not teachers can 'afford' it has been used as a very effective smoke screen. Ms Du Quesnay knows that what teachers are worth and how much it costs to live in Hong Kong are subjects that will generate huge public debate, she also knows that reactions will be subjective and there are no definitive answers.

What she has done is exploit the prejudices that already exist towards teachers and towards expatriate workers and use them to justify a pay cut. Ms Du Quesnay has not once jumped to the defence of teachers who have been the subject of public comments varying from simply untrue to scandalously libellous. The fact she has allowed so many outrageous claims about her organisation and staff to go unchallenged so that she can push through her own agenda reflects very badly on her.

Her call for the ESF community to rally round her vision of the future shows her lack of understanding of the ESF community. The ESF community is rallying around its teachers because they recognise their fundamental importance and appreciate that the cost of devaluing them through pay cuts will far outweigh any gain in income or political points.

Ms Du Quesnay needs to take stock, recognise she has acted prematurely and reconsider her position. A good captain knows when to return to shore rather than risk the crew in stormy waters. None of us wants a mutiny.

Name and Address Supplied

The question is often asked in your columns whether the proposed pay cut for the ESF teachers is fair. It is clearly unfair because the ESF has no need to make cuts. It is a flourishing organisation without a budget deficit. It is not motivated by government pressure. The ESF can fight for continued subvention, as it is enshrined in the Basic Law, or consider becoming an independent institution. There has been much argument about these issues but little revelation of facts. Let me put them to you because they concern the parents and the public in very serious ways.

The average ESF teacher earns less than $500,000 a year. An independent pay-review board concluded ESF teachers were paid below the average rate of international teachers here and in other Asian cities. There is no threat to the subvention. The ESF already has a major problem with recruitment. If the pay cuts go through, the ESF will have an even bigger problem with retention. So the real question is whether the proposed pay cut is fair to parents and the Hong Kong community.

Ms Du Quesnay expects at least 30 per cent of ESF teachers will leave when this substantially reduced remuneration package is implemented this year. Consultation forums indicate that figure will be much higher. Studies in other cities where this has happened indicate that a turnover of even 15 per cent is a major problem. If businesses can not promise places for high-quality English education, then families will simply not come here. The knock-on effect will be deep rooted.

A study in the International Herald Tribune revealed that in a developed country, if the turnover is more than 10 per cent, then salaries and remuneration are not internationally competitive. Additionally, the recruitment of new staff runs to millions of dollars - so not much of a saving there.

Think about the importance of continuity within the schools. Think about the implications for Hong Kong. Act as parents and leaders and say 'No' to this action.

Susan Page, North Point