NETs sign petition to increase allowance
HK$12,950 payment seen as falling short of needs
More than 200 native English-speaking teachers have signed a petition calling for an increase in their special allowance of HK$12,950 paid under the government's NET scheme.
The move follows a Legislative Council education panel meeting last week at which NET Lee Weston appealed for compensation for teachers who took a pay cut in 2004. The request has been turned down by Education and Manpower Bureau, which said it would not be making retrospective payments.
Under a contract NETs signed with the government in 2004, teachers suffered a cut in their special allowance from HK$13,000 a month to HK$10,500. Strong protests prompted the EMB to restore the allowance for those joining from 2005 onwards to HK$12,950.
At the same time the EMB introduced a retention incentive for those who have served two years and four years of continuous service equivalent to 5 per cent and 10 per cent of their salaries respectively.
However, NETs say that is not enough and are calling for a revamp of the scheme, adding that increasing costs and falling exchange rates are spurring an 'exodus' of NETs.
'We all want to see the scheme expand to allow for the retention of current teachers and the recruitment of new ones,' Ms Weston said.
'What we are looking for is that the government take a look at the deployment packages and make those necessary improvements in consultation with NET teachers.'
She added there had even been signatures on the petition from former NETs, some of whom might be lured back to Hong Kong.
'They left because an income of HK$30,000 is no longer viable, especially those with families to take care of and school fees to pay. Many have returned to their home countries. Some are now working in places like Brunei and the United Arab Emirates where the salary may be less but the cost of living is a lot cheaper and free education is thrown in for their children. Some have said they would consider coming back if there were some improvements,' she said.
Ms Weston said they planned to take up the issue with legislators to exert pressure on the government.
At the end of the school year in 2004, 39 per cent of secondary school teachers and 44 per cent of primary school teachers left the NET scheme. Those figures rose to 46 per cent and 53 per cent in 2005 but have since dropped to 32 per cent and 25 per cent in 2006 following restoration of the special allowance and introduction of the retention incentive.
Local primary school English teacher Jackie Chang, writing to South China Morning Post, praised their impact on local English standards but cautioned against creating a wide gulf in pay between local English teachers and NETs.
'The government must take a serious look at what is causing this exodus of our NETs because the NET is certainly one of the invaluable assets of English language teaching in Hong Kong. A regular review of the remuneration package against the current cost of living is certainly necessary,' wrote Ms Chang. 'I would suggest that the difference in pay between the NETs and LETs can be quite sensitive as both do about the same job.'
Chairman of the Federation of Education Workers Wong Kwan-yu said he supported the NETs' claims in principle.
'I fully agree with the special allowance to attract NETs but there should be a mechanism that can rise or fall to reflect the current rental market. If rent is on the rise so it is fair to grant them an increase but in the future NETs should be willing to accept a cut if rents fall,' he said.
'They need to come up with the relevant statistics that detail the increase in rent and inflation to justify their case. Has rent really recovered to 1998-levels when the scheme was first introduced? That I am slightly doubtful.'
An EMB spokesman said the last adjustment was made in 2005. 'The special allowance aims to assist NETs in meeting mainly accommodation costs in Hong Kong. It will be revised, where necessary,' he said.
The petition can be viewed online at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/allnets
Please sir, I want some more: financial incentive suggested as solution to prevent exodus
NETs who put their names on the line: 206