Veteran staff appear first to volunteer as morale among survivors takes a nosedive Voluntary retirement is taking a heavy toll on morale and veteran officers at the Education and Manpower Bureau where staff have demanded a policy overhaul. The coming months will see the departure of 234 employees, whose applications for the second round of the scheme were approved in August. They include 113 of the 860 inspectors, and school support and special education officers, according to Godwin Lai Kam-tong, president of Government Educational Staff Union (Gesu). This has prompted worries that the remaining staff will not be able to fill the gap. Choi Sung-ki, vice-chairman of Federation of EMB Staff Associations, said: 'What will happen is that younger and less experienced staff will be sent to senior posts and those with an expertise in financial management will be told to lead reading projects. 'I do not doubt the abilities of my colleagues. But the change could put them under tremendous pressure and affect their performance.' Plans are also underway for the 18 Regional Education Offices (REO) to be merged next year, which might imply that some REO staff will be in charge of 80 instead of 40 schools. This year the EMB announced it would cut staff numbers - currently about 7,000 - by 10 per cent through natural attrition and voluntary retirement. But the cuts can fall only on the 2,000 employees working in the EMB. The remaining 5,000 in government schools cannot be cut unless the schools close or there is a drastic fall in student numbers. A spokesman for the EMB said that it would only cut posts that had room for streamlining. However, Mr Lai said that virtually all of the 260 applications for voluntary retirement were approved because those coming forward had fallen short of the target. Staff morale was low with ill-formed policies, a significant increase in workload, and uncertain career prospects, said Mr Lai: 'We don't have job satisfaction because we are always fighting against rather than supporting teachers. The most ironic thing is that our job is to tell teachers to hand in this and that report and sacrifice the time they could spend with their students.' One education officer said: 'Closing schools and firing teachers is not a pleasant job for education officers. The problems are going to worsen in the next few years and we feel the pressure from both sides - our bosses and the schools.' The Gesu and Federation of EMB Staff Associations have been lobbying the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun to review the voluntary retirement policy and halt further cuts of educational staff in the EMB. But Mr Lai said that Mrs Law had not disclosed her plans on the restructuring of the bureau. Lee Ming-kai, chief secretary of Gesu and a teacher at North Point Government Primary School (AM), worried that the EMB's support for schools would be weakened as many education officers who worked closely with schools would be redeployed or retire. 'The voluntary retirement scheme is clearly set to cope with the budget deficit rather than achieve streamlining. The EMB heads should openly discuss with their staff which posts could be cut and how restructuring should be carried out,' said Mr Lee.