Prime Minister Hun Sen Monday told teachers he wished he could pay them higher salaries, but said there is not enough money in the treasury.
Speaking at a dedication ceremony for a new school in Sa’ang district, Kandal province, he made no direct reference to the teacher strike at some schools around the country.
But he emphasized that there was no extra money in the budget and that the government can’t ask donors for money to pay teachers or any other civil servants.
“I want to give you [teachers] a raise of more than you demand,” he said. “I want to give you not just 40,000 or 50,000 riel [about $10.25 or $12.82 a month], but 5 million riel [about $1,282] each.”
In reality, the government is offering a 10 percent hike, which would raise the basic beginning salary for a teacher from $20 to $22 a month. The striking teachers are asking for $100 a month.
Hun Sen said taxing farmers to pay teachers was not a solution.
“If we levied taxes on farmers who are working on 3 million hectares of land, we could use part of that tax to give a raise to government workers,” Hun Sen said. “But that would put farmers in a difficult position.
“This is an issue in which I request your understanding,” he said. “If the government had the money and did not pay attention, it should be reprimanded. But we have a lot of things to do such as [building] bridges, roads and schools.”
Lay Vanna, a psychology teacher trainee at the Faculty of Pedagogy in Phnom Penh, said he hopes to become a teacher this September, and wants to make a decent living.
“The government could raise the salary to $70 or $80 a month if it cut corruption and reformed itself,” he said Monday as he stood with a group of teacher trainees in the school’s courtyard.
Ten policeman standing at an entrance to the school held their positions as a group of 15 men, whom teacher trainees called gangsters, gathered in a corner inside the compound.
The teacher trainees accused school director Pho Soa of letting “a gangster group” onto school property to intimidate anyone supporting the strike.
Pho Soa declined to comment.
“How can the next generation be educated under this system?” Lay Vanna asked. “If the government ignores this, we will stay on the bottom, and then how will we compete with other Asean countries?”
According to Bun Sok, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Education, the Faculty of Pedagogy was the only school in Phnom Penh where there was strike activity on Monday.