A GROWING number of applicants have turned down job offers from government schools, leaving hundreds of teaching posts vacant. The Education Department has sent out 1,020 letters to offer appointments to government secondary and primary schools, where there are 698 vacancies among the 3,000 teaching posts. By mid-September, 663, or 65 per cent, of candidates had declined offers, leaving 341, or 49 per cent, of the vacant posts to be filled by substitute or temporary teachers. A 500-strong teachers' union attributed the recruitment problems to poor working conditions. The union warned that the problem would be aggravated if lecturers seconded to the Institute of Education were redeployed as teachers at government schools in future, which would affect their members' promotion prospects. The Union of Graduate Officers in Government Secondary Schools decided at an extraordinary general meeting yesterday that teachers might take industrial action by refusing to do administrative work if they were affected by the redeployment package. It also warned that students would be the ones to suffer if teacher morale was damaged and there were too many substitute teachers needed to fill the increasing vacancies left by poor recruitment results. The union's chairman, Stella Hui Lai-shun, said it was more difficult for government schools to recruit teachers than aided schools, where the working conditions and promotion prospects were better. She said there was limited clerical support at government schools and teachers had to sell exercise books, issue tuition fee receipts and supervise the printing of examination papers. And as civil servants, pension conditions were rigid and teachers could not have the last say on where they wanted to teach, Ms Hui said. She added that they might have to be deployed at different schools rather than staying at one school, as they do in subvented schools. Ms Hui said government schools were also often used as testing grounds for new education schemes, which often meant more work for teachers. The chairman of the Association of Assistant Principals of Government Secondary Schools, Ho yue-shun, said: 'There are cases in which new recruits resigned after trying to teach for one day. 'There are also cases in which new recruits did not report to work on the first day of school and it was found that the person had already reported for work at an aided school.' Ms Hui said recruitment at government school would be aggravated if the department allowed lecturers seconded to the Institute of Education to be redeployed as teachers on a separate seniority list. About 1,000 teachers have signed a petition opposing the proposed arrangement, as Ms Hui said the separate list was meant to be an 'express line' for promotion for lecturers. 'The promotion prospects at government schools are already poor, as a teacher has to wait 10 years for promotion, while an aided school teacher has to wait only five years on average,' Ms Hui said. The union will submit its views and the petition to the Education Department. Assistant Director of Education (Schools), Tsui See-ming, said while teaching vacancies where increasing, the problem was not very serious. He admitted the civil service system to assign staff at different postings might not be welcomed by some people, but he added the system would allow more promotion chances for teachers as they shifted around.