After Vote to Keep Striking, Teachers Accept Gov’t Deal

The last teachers remaining on strike will return to work today because the Council of Ministers announced Monday afternoon it would form a “technical team” to resolve complaints, the teachers spokesman said Mon­day.

The decision to end the nearly monthlong strike came just hours after representatives of striking teachers from the university voted by a margin of 40-16 to continue their work stoppage.

Ly Phatsem, a mathematics professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, confirmed both Monday morning’s vote and the change of heart. He attributed the reversal to the an­nouncement of a formation of a technical team, as promised by Deputy Prime Min­ister Sar Kheng at a meeting Fri­day with teacher representatives.

But Ly Phatsem didn’t elaborate on why the formation of a technical team swayed the teachers, or when it is likely to meet. A government spokesman indicated Monday the teachers had agreed last Friday to go back to work if Sar Kheng kept his word.

A teacher from Santhor Mok High School said Monday night he was returning to work today to “give the government more time” to address the teachers’ problems. He said the director of his school announced they were returning to work but would continue to demand more money.

Teachers initially went on strike Jan 25 demanding a raise from $20 to $315 a month.

A week ago, the teachers drew up a new proposal asking to do eight hours of research per week paid at $2.30 per hour. They also wanted a reduction in teaching hours from 12 hours a week to as few as six a week.

The proposal also called for teachers to be paid for preparation time outside class. The teachers also asked for an increase in the 20,000 riel (about $5) bonus granted to them last month—although the proposal does not state how high it should be—and for professors to be paid if they teach at other institutions.

The government has repeatedly said that it does not have the money to give any raises.

The nearly month-old strike spread to at least 12 provinces at one point. Teachers started going back to work two weeks ago but complained they had been threatened with losing their jobs if they did not return. Strikes had continued at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and at least five Phnom Penh high schools.

“We loved the nation for 20 years, but the government did not love the teachers. The government only loves corruption,” said one teacher on Monday.

General Sok Phal, an information officer for the Ministry of the Interior, said Monday afternoon that the vote at the university was not valid because it did not include all of the representatives who met with Sar Kheng on Friday. He also said Sunday that at Friday’s meeting teacher representatives signed a paper saying they would go back to work.

Pok Than, secretary of state for Education, said he could not comment Monday because the agreement was between Sar Kheng and the teachers.

Licadho, a human rights organization, received sporadic reports of intimidation including a heavy police presence at Santhor Mok and Andra Devi High Schools in Phnom Penh and in Kompong Chhnang and Svay Rieng High Schools.

Workers with other human rights organizations said they had received some reports of intimidation of teachers by uniformed officers. “We also had reports of security forces gathering teachers’ names, particularly of people they thought were organizers,” said one human rights officer.

(Additional reporting by Victoria Stagg Elliott)

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