Representatives of the country’s largest teachers’ association submitted a petition to the Ministry of Education on Sunday, demanding that educators receive a minimum monthly salary of 1 million riel, or about $250, after more than 300 protesters attempting to march through Phnom Penh to mark World Teachers’ Day were stopped by a phalanx of police.
Members of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), along with students, monks, land-rights activists, opposition CNRP lawmakers and representatives of the Khmer Krom community congregated at Freedom Park at about 8 a.m. to hear speeches from CITA president Rong Chhun and educators from around the country.
“We are celebrating World Teachers’ Day to demand that the government solve the problem of the quality of education,” Mr. Chhun said over a loudspeaker, “because it is dropping significantly, and we are concerned about the future of young Cambodians who are in competition with other youth in the region.”
Mr. Chunn added that the country risked being “colonized” by foreigners doing jobs that Cambodians are unqualified for, due to the sorry state of the education system.
The CITA president also lambasted a plan announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August to raise the minimum wage for civil servants working for the education and health ministries from $105 to $138 by April, saying the increase was not nearly enough.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the motley crowd of protesters began marching down Street 51, chanting as they raised banners and placards with slogans such as “Empty Stomach Cannot Teach.”
Two requests by Daun Penh district traffic police not to march along Norodom Boulevard were ignored by protesters, who made their way within 30 meters from the Education Ministry before being stopped by some 50 riot police. About 250 military police—some carrying assault rifles—stood in formation near Independence Monument.
Five CITA representatives were eventually allowed inside the ministry at about 10:45 a.m. to deliver the petition, which included calls for the minimum-wage raise, a 15,000-riel (about $3.75) bonus on national holidays and the elimination of corruption in the education sector.
The protesters then marched to Wat Botum park, where they also handed the petition to Kong Chamroeun, a secretary in the prime minister’s cabinet, who promised to pass it along to his superiors.
The crowd dispersed just before noon.
Daun Penh district governor Kuoch Chamroeun said he was frustrated with the protesters’ refusal to abide by requests to refrain from marching down Norodom Boulevard.
“We cannot trust those people anymore because when we had meetings with them, they agreed to march [only] on [Street] 51, but they did not respect this,” he said.