Gov’t Offer Rebuffed By Teachers

Striking teachers on Saturday rejected a government plan to cut the salaries of top government officials, saying the proposal did not address their demands for better incomes.

“We don’t want the government to destroy their stone houses and build small wooden ones like ours,” Heng Savoeun, a professor of history at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said metaphorically. “Government officials can keep their stone houses, but give us at least a good roof to defend against the rain.”

Heng Savoeun was one of 77 teachers who met at the university on Saturday to discuss the week-old strike. On Jan 25, high school teachers in Phnom Penh and in Battambang province joined professors at the university in a work stoppage, demanding their monthly salaries be upped to $316 from roughly $20.

Teachers on Saturday expres­sed disappointment with the government’s proposal to cut the salaries of top officials by 70 percent to close the income gap between officials and educators. Some officials make about $2,000 a month.

The Cabinet Friday approved reducing top officials’ salaries, in­cluding the wages of the 122 National Assem­bly members. The Assembly must adopt the proposal before it goes into effect.

“The government is welcome, if the National Assembly ap­proves the proposed law, to pass a 70 percent reduction in salaries for officials, but this is not the solution,” a Saturday statement from the teachers said.

Council of Ministers spokes­man Khieu Thavika said the Cabinet had no reaction yet to the teachers’ response.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Sunday denied he was in­volved in the strike but expressed qualified support for the teachers. He said teachers should take into account the government’s cash-strapped coffers and ask for about $100 a month.

“The teachers’ strike for better salaries is right, but the demands have to go step by step,” Sam Rainsy told supporters at his headquarters Sunday. The government could afford the increase if it cut defense and security spending by 40 percent, he said.

Sam Rainsy was a former finance minister and has been involved in organizing strikes for garment factory workers.

Teachers on Saturday also insisted the strike was not political, but for educators’ survival.

They said they will send itemized lists of their own personal living expenses to government officials this week. The goal: to show government officials they cannot live on salaries of $15 and $20 (57,000 and 76,000 riel) a month.

“I get up early. I return home late at night. When I pick up a book to teach, all I can think about is my family’s rice pot,” said Ma Serain, 31, a teacher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Ma Serain said he supports his monthly university pay of $21 (80,000 riel) by teaching English privately at 5:30 in the morning. He said he earns between $35 to $40 a month with his side jobs.

The main people suffering in the strike are the students, said Chhay Yiheang, dean of the university’s Philosophy department.

“I don’t want to see this strike go on a long time,” Chhay Yiheang said. “The teachers are wasting time they should be spending on their duties, the students are missing lessons, the government officials are wasting time working on other things.”

Teachers and Ministry of Education officials need to meet to solve the strike, he said.

At least 10 of Phnom Penh’s 26 schools are on strike, affecting 4,000 students at the university and several thousand more in the municipality’s schools, said Nath Sarom, the deputy director-general of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Teachers at Baktuk, Chakto­muk, Vealrinh, Endradevi, Siso­wath, Tuol Tumpong, Yukhon­thor, Santhor Mok and Samaki high schools are on strike.

Ek Phnom High School in Ek Phnom district in Battambang province was also reported on strike last week.

The Khmer-language daily Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper on Sunday reported that teachers at Net Yang college and Preah Monivong college in Battambang have been on strike since Tuesday. Teachers have also been reported on strike in Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Primary schools are unaffected.

The Khmer-language Koh San­tepheap (Island of Peace) newspaper reported Sunday 105 high school teachers in southern Kampot town have been on strike since Jan 25.

The government offered a $5 monthly bonus on Jan 15 after teachers at several Phnom Penh schools threatened to strike. The government has acknowledged the bonus is small, but says it cannot afford any more.

 

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