Teachers in Pailin will go back to school today after a strike cancelled classes on Monday, union officials said.
Teachers were on strike from 7 am until 2:30 pm, officials said. Government officials paid the teachers their salaries in the afternoon—money that had been overdue for two months, said Leng Bun Hong of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.
The government did not pay family allowances or overtime, which has been delayed for six months, said Pailin CITA President Chhuon Narun. Teachers may strike again if those demands are not met, he said.
“We have to do it step by step,” he said.
The strike illustrates the problems civil servants face in rectifying disputes with their employer, the government. Employees of private businesses, such as garment factories, can look to the Labor Law for guidance.
But discrepancies in the civil servant law provide no answers for rectifying labor complaints for government workers, said Pok Than, Funcinpec secretary of state at the Ministry of Education.
A proposed amendment to the civil servant law could solidify the laws surrounding the labor rights of civil servants, said Kong Pharith of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
If the amendment is ratified by the National Assembly, civil servants could organize and collectively bargain “at every level” without government intimidation, Kong Pharith said. Union leaders would also be protected from discrimination.
The formation of the Assembly remains on hold due to the ongoing political deadlock.
Monday’s strike and subsequent settlement in Pailin was unusual because it ended with teachers receiving their pay.
Other teacher strikes have ended through police intimidation, CITA President Rong Chhun said. But “no law says clearly” that teachers cannot unionize and strike, he said.
Yet teachers currently enjoy little protection from intimidation, Kong Pharith said.
Police often disperse gatherings of teachers. In one incident, police broke up a meeting in which solidarity center officials were trying to spread information about its mission, he said.
The ACLIS proposed the civil servant amendment to parliamentary candidates at meetings before the July general elections. Members of the three major parties were invited, but only Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party candidates attended, Kong Pharith said.
The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization has also worked to amend the civil servant law regarding teachers, Kong Pharith and Rong Chhun said.
International Labor Organization conventions, ratified by Cambodia in 1998, and the 1993 Constitution allow all workers to form unions, Kong Pharith said.
“But there is no backup in the law,” he said.
The Cambodian civil servant law specifies that government workers may form “associations”—leading some to believe unions are not legitimate, Kong Pharith said.
“The union is more powerful than the association,” he said.
Education International, a group of teachers unions, and the ILO have pressured the government to recognize CITA, said Aloysius Mathews, Kuala Lumpur-based representative for Education International.
In July 2001, CITA became an official association recognized by the Cambodian government. But the government has not replied to letters from CITA and its international affiliates demanding that teachers receive overtime pay, which, in some cases, has been owed for one year, Mathews said.
If the amendment is ratified, the government would be required to bargain with teachers, Pok Than said.
“I’m sorry the salaries are slow,” he said. “This is the main problem for us. Sometimes there is a problem with cash flow.”
CITA has urged the government to increase salaries for teachers from $25 to $30 per month to about $100. But Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that the government, although willing, cannot afford to give the raise.
Nuon Rithy, ILO’s Cambodia representative, said bargaining in schools resembles bargaining in private companies five years ago.
“They do not have lobby power,” he said. “Teachers’ unions need to build up their capacity.”