By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
The long-awaited draft law for the career regime of teachers in private non-tertiary education institutions passed the first reading yesterday. Although higher salaries and better career prospects are proposed, some lawmakers are concerned about the teaching staff’s employment stability and the possibility of unjustified dismissal.
Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Cheong U, director of the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau Leong Lai presented the bill to the Legislative Assembly.
Lawmaker Au Kam San questioned the current situation in private schools where teaching staff’s employment contracts have to be renewed yearly, which he deemed may result in unfair lay-off.
“This draft law is unable to solve this problem. If teachers’ jobs cannot be protected, having high remunerations is meaningless,” Au said.
“Compensation for unjustified dismissal comes from the school resources, which is partly the government funding,” he added.
Kwan Tsui Hang shared the view with Au and also expressed concern over the stability of private school teachers’ jobs.
The annual renewal of employment contracts, Kwan pointed out, is inconsistent with the Labour Relations Law.
“The relationship between schools and teachers should be more than just a normal labour relationship because of the special nature of the job. Why can’t the government legislate to prevent teachers from being sacked unreasonably?” she said.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Ho Sio Kam, who is also the vice-principal of a local school, said the current draft law is not in line with the Labour Relations Law regarding the pay for giving extra classes.
“Private school teachers had a lot of resentment and their morale was very low especially after public school teachers’ career regime was revised and got even higher salaries last year,” Ho told the legislature.
She said the teachers hoped that the draft law can pass the second reading before the legislature closes for the summer break in mid-August.
According to Ho, up to 95 percent of local students go to private schools. “Their workload is huge, they have to give a lot of classes and the class size is also big.”
The government has proposed that private schools are required to spend at least 70 percent of their “fixed and long-term revenues” on teaching staff’s salaries and provident fund. However, Ho Ion Sang pointed out that without formulating a proportion, teachers may still not be able to receive a fair pay.
“The 70 percent expenditure also covers salaries for principals and other mid- and senior-level management personnel of a school, would that be possible that they get excessively high wages while teaching staff remain getting a low pay?” he questioned.
Doubts over provident fund
Moreover, the draft law proposes that the number of normal class hours will be reduced weekly in order to enhance teaching quality and enable teachers to participate in professional training.
Lawmaker Lee Chong Cheng supported the initiative, but is concerned about the supply of manpower to compensate for the existing teachers’ reduced workload.
“Currently a teacher usually gives 20 to 24 classes [a week], so when they’re allowed to give fewer classes, how many more new teachers each school will need to hire?” Lee pointed out.
On the other hand, Chan Wai Chi, Au Kam San and José Pereira Coutinho asked for proper monitoring and a proportion of contributions on the mandatory provident fund the government has proposed.
In the current draft law it states that the school and teaching staff will be responsible for the contributions to the provident fund. Yet, Au said in the previous version of the bill, the government was also included as a contributor.
Nevertheless, Cheong U did not respond to all the questions raised by the lawmakers yesterday.
He said the draft law doesn’t mention a compensation system for overtime work, but is “better than the Labour Relations Law” in certain aspects, such as having a “job promotion mechanism, mandatory provident fund, 20-day paid leave, 36 working hours per week as well as allowances for professional development”.
However, the secretary admitted that the law is unable to solve all the problems and satisfy all the demands, but to obtain the largest consensus as possible.
He also said that although the working conditions of private school teachers are “not perfect” at the moment, “great improvements” have already been made when compared to the past.