Nine tenths of local teachers oppose the Education Bureau’s current sick leave policy and support a return to the former system, a survey by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union has revealed.

Results from the email survey conducted by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union showed that 70 percent of teachers “disagree” or “highly disagree” with the Teacher Relief Grant (TRG) arrangement introduced in 2005.

The scheme allows schools to claim reimbursements from the Bureau to hire supply teachers when a full-time staff member has been sick for 30 or more days. The previous policy had enabled schools to do so after just three days.

Over half of principals surveyed also said that the the sums offered by the TRG should be raised more than 150 percent.

hong kong professional teachers' union
Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. Photo: HKPTU.

In November, education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said at a Legislative Council meeting that a teacher told him he had taken than 20 days of sick leave but his school still did not hire a supply teacher. When he returned to work, he was asked to make up for the lessons missed during his absence—numbering more than 100 in total.

“We are not able to verify or comment on the case as relevant information is insufficient,” Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim wrote in a written reply to Ip. “To our knowledge, most schools do not have any adverse comments on the current arrangement for the TRG.”

The study found that almost 70 percent of teachers are unhappy with schools’ mechanism for arranging make-up lessons. The effects of not taking sick leave included worsening illnesses, psychological and emotional stress, and even miscarriage due to lack of rest, the report said.

The HKPTU survey found that 78 percent of teachers do not dare take sick leave due to the need to arrange extra make-up lessons. Some teachers said that, at any given time, more than half of staff members are wearing a face mask, seeing a doctor, or taking a course of medicine.

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.