It is common — and understandable — for any employee to call in sick when they feel unwell.
However, calling in sick is a luxury for many teachers in Hong Kong. Many often have to come to work sick.
Why is this so?
It used to be that a public or government-subsidized school could hire a substitute whenever a full-time teacher took sick leave of more than three days.
But in 2005, the Education Bureau changed the policy by extending the requirement to more than 30 days.
That meant schools could only be reimbursed for the cost of a substitute teacher if the regular teacher was off sick for that long.
They could tap the teacher relief grant (TRG) but it was a one-off payment and was available only once a year.
The amount of TRG each school receives is based on the assumption that each full-time teacher normally takes no more than two and half days of sick leave a year.
Many schools say TRG does not go far enough, making it hard to hire substitute teachers.
It’s rare that teachers will take more than 30 days’ sick leave unless they are hospitalized or undergo lengthy procedures or rehabilitation, so schools simply stop hiring substitutes.
Often, a regular teacher coming off sick bay has to work overtime to catch up with work or deal with other pending matters.
The added burden is unnecessary and unfair.
I can cite the case of a teacher just back from 20 days’ sick leave who was asked by the school to take an extra 100 lessons to make up for lost time.
A civilized society like Hong Kong should not penalize people for being sick, including our teachers.
The policy change 10 years ago has only exacerbated an already unbearable workload for our teachers.
The Education Bureau should bring back the old policy.
After all, how can we expect our teachers to educate our children if they are made to come to work sick?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 19.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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