The Ministry of Education will not negotiate with striking teachers who launched a nationwide work stoppage Thursday to protest low wages.
Bun Sok, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Education, said Friday the ministry will not negotiate with striking teachers and contended that the strike has had little effect and that most of the country’s schools have remained open.
The government is still overburdened trying to rehabilitate areas of the country which suffered from last year’s flooding, and teachers cannot expect to have their proposed wage increase from an average of $30 to $100 per month met, Bun Sok said.
He also said the ministry is considering a plan to temporarily fill striking teacher’s positions with officials from the Education Ministry.
“Teachers have the right to strike, but we also have the right to fill those positions temporarily,” said Bun Sok.
Thursday’s strike call received mixed reactions from teachers in Phnom Penh, but garnered stronger support in rural areas, representatives of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association claimed Friday.
Association president Rong Chhun claimed Friday that around 60 percent of the country’s teachers had joined the strike action, but that support for the strike was stronger in rural areas than in Phnom Penh.
“A small group of teachers in Phnom Penh are afraid to lose the benefits they earn from teaching. Other teachers are afraid after intimidation by school directors and government officials who said they will be fired for striking,” Rong Chhun said.
He added that intimidation of strikers was also to blame for the sluggish start to the work stoppage elsewhere in the nation, and contended that more teachers have expressed a willingness to join the strike next week.
Military police and police wearing civilian clothes were allegedly stationed at several school grounds Thursday and Friday. School officials also registered all teachers who joined the strike. Those whose names are registered will face disciplinary action, according to Rong Chhun.
Chea Mony, secretary general of the teachers association, appealed Friday for school authorities to keep the police and military police out of striking schools.
“Even if they are not wearing uniforms, they are a threat to teachers not to join the strike. We would like all of them to stay away from schools. What we are doing is not violent. It is peaceful,” said Chea Mony.
Ros Sovanny, a teacher at Tuk Laak High School in Phnom Penh, said Friday she is determined to keep striking, saying a salary increase will help both students and teachers.
“We strike to get a salary from the government and not the students. When we take money from students it means we are teaching them how to be corrupt from a young age. All teachers should stop doing this,” said Ros Sovanny. She was referring to the common practice of charging students for lessons and materials.
Svay Sopheap, a mathematics and English teacher at Santhor Mok High School in Phnom Penh, said Friday that he did not join the strike because he has to earn a living. In addition to his government salary Svay Sopheap said he earns a further $5 per day from teaching students privately.
“I would also appeal to the government to let students go to school over the Chinese New Year. The absence of students over the new year made me lose much money,” Svay Sopheap said.
Several of Phnom Penh’s larger schools including Sisowath, Tuol Tumpong and Phsar Daum Kor high schools were operating normally Friday.
Sam Ol, a teacher at Tram Kna school in Takeo province, said Friday that provincial authorities called all teachers to a morning meeting and asked them to return to work. Those who did not attend work had their names listed and will be reported to higher authorities, Sam Ol said.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)