A teachers strike set for Thursday will pull 80 percent of the nation’s 80,000 teachers out of their classrooms to protest low wages, union organizers say.
The strike is expected to last until the government meets the teachers’ demands, including a pay increase from about $20 a month to $100 a month.
Pok Than, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, has said pay levels are already set, and the most the government can afford is the 10 percent raise for civil servants announced last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Teachers say their pay is so low they must find other ways to earn more money.
“We cannot educate the students well because we are focusing on our living conditions and on finding other work for extra money to feed our families,” said Tel Samuth, 36, a teacher at the Sihanoukville High School.
“I think the government can increase salaries for our teachers if the government can cut off corruption,” he said.
Fear of a government crackdown has some teachers calling for leniency.
“I appeal to the government, please solve this problem for us,” said Keo Thai, 31, a teacher at Baribo High School in Kompong Chhnang province, “And if we strike, please don’t crack down on our strikers with violence.”
Teachers in several cities have reported threats and intimidation.
“The director told us…not to join the strike or we will face losing classes,” said a physics teacher at Phnom Penh High School who asked not to be identified.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, the group calling the strike, said some members have been threatened by school administrators while distributing information.
Rong Chhun said a chemistry teacher at Indradevi High School in Phnom Penh told him she was warned she would be handcuffed if she continued to distribute union material.
Rong Chhun said another union member in Svay Rieng province reported that a member of parliament urged authorities to arrest those calling for a strike.
The threats drew condemnations from Education International, a worldwide teachers’ organization that claims 24 million members in 155 countries.
“We urge you to ensure that this harassment and intimidation stops immediately,” wrote Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International.
The letter sent to Pok Than also urged the government to try to hammer out a resolution.
At a conference last weekend organized by the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association, some 47 teachers from 11 provinces discussed how to get more representation in the government.