The Mong Reththy Group has agreed to pay $700 to each of the more than 400 teachers at the Royal University of Fine Arts, ending a two-day strike over the company’s land swap deal with the university, teachers and the company’s president said Wednesday.
Owner Mong Reththy said his company will give the teachers money to help them buy vehicles with which to travel to the university’s new location in Russei Keo district on the outskirts of the capital.
In February, the company confirmed it made a deal with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to build a new arts campus in exchange for the centrally located 3.17 hectares of the university’s main campus near the Old Stadium.
Mong Reththy said Wednesday that the payment to the teachers—which will total at least $280,000—was not “compensation” for the swap. Instead, he said: “It is our donation to those teachers…. They are poor.”
The teachers walked off the job on Tuesday and Wednesday morning to demand that the Mong Reththy company provide them with funds to ease their transition to the new location, according to Rath Chanrith, who has been teaching at the university for more than a decade.
“The new location of the university is on the outskirts of the city, and [we] need to [travel] a long distance to reach [it],” he said.
Rath Chanrith said the teachers accepted the company’s payment and returned to work on Wednesday afternoon.
RUFA teacher Mem Sinareth said she and her colleagues did not actually object to the relocation itself.
“Our teachers are not willing to fight against the government’s project,” she said. “We support the government to relocate the university [in exchange for] construct[ing] the new one according to international standard.”
She added that many of the teachers received their $700 payments at the university on Wednesday afternoon.
Rong Chhun, director of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said he was less supportive of the land deal.
“The university should be located in the capital. To relocate the university to the outskirts of the city, teachers would face more difficulties,” Rong Chhun said.
Teachers are already paid low salaries, and gasoline prices are getting steeper, making it more difficult for teachers to travel to the new location, he said.
He added that many of the government’s land swap deals have been carried out without transparency.
“The government should broadcast and declare to people publicly about any relocations,” he said.
Reached on Wednesday, Chuch Phoeung, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, declined to comment on the relocation of the university, saying he was not in charge of the deal.
In addition to the donations to the teachers, Mong Reththy said Wednesday that his company has also paid $1,000 per family to more than 30 of the 50 families currently living inside RUFA’s main campus who will be forced to relocate. The remaining families will soon receive payments as well, he said.
But he said he could not reveal how much the company is paying in so-called donations over the land swap.
Mong Reththy said that the new campus is nearly complete and that all of its buildings on the four hectares of land in Russei Keo should be fully constructed by July.