Teacher Representatives Got Radios, Riel After Gov’t Talk

Teacher representatives were given transistor radios and 50,000 riel ($13.50) each after a meeting last week with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, but insisted the gifts had nothing to do with their sudden decision to go back to work.

“Those things can’t buy our will,” said Ly Phatsem, a mathematics professor from the Royal University of Phnom Penh who attended the meeting. He added the striking teachers who decided to return to work did so be­cause the government promised to solve their problems.

When asked about the radios and the cash gifts, Sok Phal, information officer for the Ministry of Interior, said, “How do you know?” and hung up the phone.

Pok Than, secretary of state for Education, said he had no comment on the gifts but said Tues­day, “It’s a relief that the teachers are going back to work.”

Teacher representatives at the university voted Monday morning to continue the monthlong strike but reversed the decision after the Council of Ministers announced Monday afternoon that it would form a “technical team” to resolve their complaints.

The gifts do not seem to be illegal. One lawyer said the act would not be covered by law and it was a cultural practice to give small gifts as a token of good will.

Despite the belief of the Ministry of Education, teacher representatives and some teachers that the strike was over, many classrooms were empty Tuesday.

Ly Phatsem himself estimated that only 30 percent of university professors had returned to work but said that was only because they were waiting for an official government announcement.

One teacher at Yukhonthor High School estimated that only 10 percent of his colleagues had actually returned to the classroom as of Tuesday, and complained that their director was pressuring others to return.

Other teachers said that, although they were returning to work, they would continue to demand more money. “We strike for a $300 salary increase, but we only got a $5 bonus,” said Char Lyheng, a professor in sociology, “It is not satisfactory for us.”

According to Ly Phatsem, the meeting with Sar Kheng on Friday was attended by 17 teach­er representatives including 12 from the university, two from Kandal province high school, one from Prey Veng High School, one from Endradevi High School and one from Yukhon­thor.

The strike spread to at least 12 provinces at one point. Teachers started to return two weeks ago but complained they had been threatened with losing their jobs if they did not return. Strikes had continued at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and at least five Phnom Penh high schools.



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