Government wants to trim $860m education allowances, but court case will decide if they are protected by Basic Law Civil servants have pledged to fight cuts in education allowances for their children, currently under review by the government. The overseas and local education allowances will this year cost taxpayers $860 million - $569.75 million for schooling in the UK and $290.43 million for tuition in international or other private schools locally. While a review is under way as part of the government's efforts to cut its fiscal deficit, civil service unions have defended the subsidies, saying they serve Hong Kong's interests and are part of the government's contractual obligations for its employees. 'People send their children overseas because they are not satisfied with the local education system. Their children who have a better education in the UK can serve Hong Kong better,'' said Barry Brown, president of the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants. 'It is counterproductive to Hong Kong to scrap or cut the allowances,' he said. His group is awaiting the outcome of a judicial review heard at the Court of First Instance early this month, initiated by a group of civil servants who claimed the government had breached international labour conventions and the Basic Law to push through legislation on a pay-cut in the civil service last year. The plaintiffs cited Article 100 of the Basic Law which states that civil servants' pay and conditions of service must not be less favourable than those before 1997. A decision is expected within two weeks. Mr Brown said the Secretary for Civil Service, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, told staff unions he wanted to cut allowances, and a Civil Service Bureau spokesperson told the South China Morning Post: 'Since the provision of these allowances is out of step with present day circumstances, and in view of the government's fiscal position, we shall further examine whether there is any scope for changes.'' The government was aiming to come up with proposals for staff consultation by July. Paul Pang Tat-choi, chairman of the Senior Non-expatriate Officers' Association, vowed to fight any radical change. 'It is unfair to take away what we are entitled to. People joined the civil service with expectations for the benefits,' he said. It was usually the rank-and-file who made use of the benefit to have their children educated in Britain. Senior staff tended to send theirs to North America, which was not covered by the allowance. The 100,000-strong Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association is planning to submit counter proposals to the government over the education subsidies. President Cecilia So Chui-kuen said: 'We need to study the issue proactively in response to the government review.' The overseas allowance, introduced in 1964 for expatriate officers and extended to locals in 1972, was scrapped for those recruited to the civil service after 1996. The government continued to offer the local allowance until June 2000. But as many as 133,000 officers who joined before the cut-off dates are still eligible for the overseas allowance and 165,000 for the local. The local allowance covers a maximum annual amount of $30,100 for primary schools, $53,000 for junior secondary and $49,000 for senior. The ceiling for schooling in Britain is #7,400 (HK$95,338) for junior schools and #9,100 for senior. Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan supports the government review, saying the idea of the overseas education allowance is out of date. The period in which civil servants' children are subsidised - currently from between the ages of nine and 19 - should be reduced, she said. 'There is room for adjustment in the overseas allowance without breaching the Basic Law. It is a matter of interpretation whether the salary levels mentioned in the Basic Law refer to absolute monetary terms or people's purchasing power. Free air tickets should definitely be scrapped.' But she said the local allowance should be retained, given the increase of fee-paying Direct Subsidy Scheme schools. Sir David Akers-Jones, a former chief secretary in the colonial days, said the government should think carefully before scrapping the allowances. The exposure students gained overseas was a positive benefit to Hong Kong's aspirations to be an international city. 'It is good for Hong Kong. It brings the English-educated back to Hong Kong to provide a different levening in the community,' he said.