More than 300 teachers from 12 provinces gathered in front of the National Assembly on Monday to demand higher salaries and an end to the corruption they say is hindering wage hikes.
Before marching to the Ministry of Education, where the demonstrators set fire to five tires, several Funcinpec and opposition party members emerged from the Assembly in a show of support for the teachers’ cause.
“I did not want to come here, but because I have nothing I had to come here to ask for a suitable salary,” said Kompong Thom province teacher Kun Sokern.
The teachers, holding banners that read, “good governance means fair pay for civil servants,” threatened to strike if their demands were not met.
“This was just a small demonstration, but if the government doesn’t solve the teachers’ problem, then the demonstration will turn into a…massive strike across the country,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association. He said the proposed strike will be held Feb 1 to Feb 15.
National Assembly Secretary-General and Funcinpec member Kol Pheng emerged from the Assembly building and told the teachers that they had the support of National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. He said the prince will try to persuade parliament to pass the pay raise.
Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy also attended the gathering. Rong Chhun said he invited the Senate President and CPP Presidedent Chea Sim to support the teachers, but no members of the ruling party were present.
Kol Pheng said the prince had wanted to support the teachers personally, but had to attend the visit of the Malaysian king, who arrived in Phnom Penh Monday.
“Prince Ranariddh was the one who encouraged the increase in teachers’ salaries. The prince will do his best to convince the other parliamentarians to increase the national budget for the Ministry of Education,” said Kol Pheng.
Rong Chhun said that if the government went ahead with the pay hike, teachers would not be forced to charge students extra money for their education. It is common for teachers to take small payments from students who can afford them in exchange for supplemental education and tutoring.
Kong Nath, a teacher from Phnom Penh, said that educators are teaching students to practice corruption. He said his students pay him 200 riel every day for their education, adding, “I am also corrupt, but not in the same way as other politicians. I am corrupt because I want to survive,” he said.
“Low salaries for teachers and government servants is caused by corruption and the government should take [appropriate] measures,” Funcinpec Parliamentarian Nan Sy said. He urged demonstrators to select leaders who will support educators in the upcoming election.
Kompong Thom Provincial Educational Department President Kem Vysoth warned in a letter that punitive measures would be taken against the teachers for walking off their jobs to demonstrate today. The letter requested that principals should register all teachers that were absent and that discipline would be considered by the Education Department.
Demonstrating alongside the teachers was the Democratic Front of Khmer Students and Intellectuals. Democratic Front President Moa Moeung Yat stated in a petition presented to the National Assembly that not only teachers, but all civil servants, are vital to the health of the country.
“If they are forgotten, the country will be deficient and lose integrity,” the petition stated.
Trying to “withdraw from accountability and responsibility,” the petition said, “is the act of cowardly and incompetent persons.”