School Teachers Sit Out Class in Protest for Higher Wages

Public school teachers in Phnom Penh and at least five provinces began to stage piecemeal strikes Monday, refusing to teach as they demanded a raise in their monthly wage to $250.

“Thirty to 40 of us came to school this morning but did not teach,” said Ny Chandaravuth, a teacher at Ang Chhuk school in Tram Kak district, Takeo province, adding that after 21 years in the profession, his monthly salary was still about $75.

In Kompong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district, Seng Thy, a teacher at Norodom Ranariddh School, said the majority of teachers at his school had also refused to work Monday.

“Most of the teachers came to school today, about 30 or 40, but we refused to teach until we are given enough money to support our families,” he said. “How can we support a family on less than $100? And is it fair to expect that we do this?”

Teachers at Tuol Tom Poung high school in Phnom Penh also said that they had refused to work as a protest against their low salaries. Ak Thorn, who teaches math at the school, said that about 150 out of 200 teachers there had arrived and begun conducting classes, but walked off the job shortly after.

In Svay Rieng and Siem Reap provinces, teachers also reported having walked out of class.

However, Ros Salin, Cabinet chief at the Education Ministry, flatly denied that any work stoppages had occurred.

“I have reports from all provincial education departments and everything is calm. There is no issue, no strikes,” Mr. Salin said.

“The first year of the fifth mandate we need to reform the [teacher salary] system, then we can raise the salary the next year or the year after that,” he added.

A nationwide teachers’ strike was initially called last week by the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), which has more than 10,000 members. However, union leader Rong Chhun was promptly warned by the Ministry of Interior against leading such a demonstration.

Since then, Mr. Chhun, also president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, has been summoned to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning in relation to events that led up to a deadly crackdown on striking garment workers in Pur Senchey district last week, and has not been contactable this week.

Grace Park, advocacy adviser for CITA, and Rong Panha, CITA’s head of advocacy and a nephew of Mr. Chhun, both confirmed Monday that strikes had gone ahead across the country, but could not estimate how many schools had been affected, or what would come next.

With no official directive from Mr. Chhun, teachers on Monday said it was unclear how long they would continue the strike.

“We are not sure what to do next,” said Ouk Chhayavy, a CITA member who teaches at Jayavarman 7 school in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district.

“We have to wait and see, since tomorrow is a holiday,” he said, adding that after more than 20 years as a teacher, he commanded a salary of about $75.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)

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