A teachers union official Tuesday accused Kompong Thom province police of stopping a union recruitment drive by intimidating junior high school teachers participating in the meeting.
The leader of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, Rong Chhun, said that at least 10 Stung Sen district officers stopped teachers as they gathered for the union meeting Tuesday at Kroyouv Junior High School.
Rong Chhun alleged that the police stationed themselves outside of classrooms and told teachers their meeting was over. The union leader said the tactics were veiled threats and frightened the union’s potential members.
“The police didn’t use violence on us, but when they sat outside, the teachers were very afraid,” he said.
More than 50 teachers had been invited to the meeting, which was to recruit members for a new branch of the union in Stung Sen district, Rong Chhun said.
“They are preventing us from adhering to the democratic process, and they are not allowing us to have freedom of expression,” Rong Chhun said.
A Kompong Thom province official defended the officers, saying the teachers were meeting illegally.
“We didn’t allow the teachers to gather because there was no permission from the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Education,” provincial third deputy governor Kong Bunthorn said in a letter made available to the media.
Stung Sen district Police Chief Srey Puthy dismissed Rong Chhun’s claims, saying his officers were merely carrying out an order and did not in any way threaten the would-be union members.
“We just sat outside and chatted with one another. We didn’t use any violence with the teachers,” he said.
Rong Chhun made similar complaints earlier this month, when Kompong Chhnang province schoolteachers defied authorities and held a CITA election Dec 1.
Rong Chhun said he founded his union and has been organizing in the provinces because Cambodia’s teachers are woefully overworked and underpaid.
The teachers’ union is threatening to strike on Dec 16 if salaries aren’t raised to $100 per month, according to union statements.
Critics and observers in Cambodia have long blasted the country’s education system, where a teacher’s starting salary averages about $25 per month.
This has caused students to complain continually about teachers demanding money for supplies or good grades. Teachers, on the other hand, say they are in turn exploited by school administrators, who they claim demand money.
Among others, UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht has made access to education and education reform a top priority.
Only a handful of students ever pass their secondary school exams, and Cambodia is one of only two nations where the literacy rate declined in the 1990s. The other nation was Kenya.
In the Kompong Chhnang incident, provincial officials also defended their crackdown by claiming that the union had not sought their permission to organize there.