University teachers threaten hunger strike

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am

Teachers' representatives at local universities have vowed to go on hunger strike if the City University does not provide more information on the fate of 150 lecturers who are rumoured to be losing their jobs within two years.

The university yesterday refused to comment on the matter, only saying that a 'workable proposal' would be released soon.

The 150 lecturers, from departments including business, language and information technology, were seconded to the university's College of Higher Vocational Studies during the 1990s, taking a 20 per cent pay cut after the college was renamed Community College and became a private institution in 2004.

The lecturers agreed to the pay cut, which the institution justified on the grounds of a weak economy. But a rumour has been circulating that the lecturers are to be fired after the University Grant Committee stops funding for associate degree education in June 2008.

Most of the lecturers have superannuation status - similar to tenure at other universities - with only 20 per cent contract staff. All remained staff members of the university, not the college, after being seconded.

Meanwhile, vacancies created because of the secondment were filled through extra recruitment over the years, said Nicholas Tam Pui-ho, chairman of City University's teachers' union.

'They hire 90 to 100 new staff every year,' he said.

Federation of Hong Kong Higher Education Staff Associations president Shum Kar-ping said social justice was at stake if the university ignored the spirit of tenure and tried to fire existing staff after they had helped to build up the community college in the first place.

He said teaching staff from other universities supported the 150 lecturers and had already sent letters to City University president Chang Hsin-kang and council chairman Tim Chung Shui-ming requesting an explanation yesterday.

A copy was also sent to Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung. It was also hoped that a meeting with Professor Li would be set up soon.

Mr Tam yesterday said the norm at universities wanting to lay off staff was to give them two years' notice since lecturers needed time to plan ongoing research. However, City University was well past this deadline since it wanted to bring in changes in June 2008.