ESF - English Schools Foundation

NETs call for a 39pc allowance rise as costs soar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 March, 2008, 12:00am

Native English-speaking teachers are calling for a 39 per cent increase in their special allowance to offset spiralling living costs and keep experienced staff in Hong Kong.

Sharp rises in rents and worsening exchange rates have eroded NETs' purchasing power and wiped out the gains from a raise in benefits in 2005, according to the Native English-speaking Teachers' Association.

It has drawn up a dossier of evidence of rising living costs and a shopping list of new demands, including raising the monthly special allowance from HK$12,950 to HK$18,000.

The association also wants a new education allowance for NETs with families, and the retention bonus - 10 per cent of annual salary for teachers on second or subsequent contracts - increased to 15 per cent after the third contract and 20 per cent after the fourth.

Its leaders are due to meet Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung on Thursday to discuss English-language teaching in government and aided schools.

Perry Bayer, of the association's benefits and welfare committee, said the delegation would ask Mr Suen for an early meeting with the scheme's managers to present their case, but he could not disclose the contents of the dossier beforehand.

They would also raise concerns among NETs about an 'erosion of quality' in new teachers being admitted into the scheme, with some 'less-well-qualified people' being employed, especially in primary schools. 'What we have really got to do now is to look at a big increase in the special allowance,' he said.

'We want to retain a lot of the long-servers, people like myself who have brought up families here.

'So a lynchpin of our strategy is also the education allowance to keep families. In general terms, we are asking for 50 per cent of children's primary fees or secondary fees met through the education allowance. It should cover the fees of any international, independent or English Schools Foundation school within Hong Kong.

'We want the special allowance to be raised, mainly to cover the huge jump in rental prices over the past two years. And the value of the retention allowance was overtaken within a year of it being granted - even for NETs on the higher allowance.'

Mr Bayer said the association also wanted the scheme's medical allowance - HK$1,400 for single teachers and HK$5,400 for those with families - raised to HK$5,000 and HK$15,000, respectively, and its baggage allowance of about HK$4,000 per cubic metre increased to HK$8,500.

Dave Stead, the association's secondary liaison officer, said the value of the NETs' salary had fallen by about 40 per cent in sterling terms since 1998, taking into account inflation and exchange rates.

The special allowance, which is meant to reflect the higher housing costs and other additional expenses faced by expatriates, was cut to HK$10,500 for half of all NETs in 2004 and for the other half in 2005.

But education chiefs reversed the decision after legislators warned of a 'crisis of recruitment' in the scheme, as nearly half the 300 NETs due to renew their contracts in 2005 left their schools.

They restored the special allowance to HK$12,950 a month and introduced retention bonuses.

A spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said wastage rates for NETs in both primary and secondary schools had been on a decreasing trend since 2005.