Saying he did not want to interfere with students taking semester exams, the leader of the group of striking Cambodian teachers called off the work stoppage Wednesday.
Cambodia Independent Teachers Association President Rong Chhun appealed to all teachers to go back to school and teach their students as usual, although he called it a “temporary suspension.”
“We decided to suspend the strike for a while because we want students to finish their first-semester tests, and we want to give the government more of a chance to consider [the union’s demands],” he said.
Students are scheduled to take their first sets of tests this month. The score from these tests are added to the scores they receive on their final examinations at the end of the school year.
“What I’m paying most attention to is the grade 9 and grade 12 students who have to take their exams to graduate from middle school and high school, respectively,” Rong Chhun said.
The strike, which began last Thursday, never spread nationwide as organizers had hoped.
Teachers, who receive a base salary of $20 monthly, wanted a raise to $100. The government is offering $22.
CITA leaders complained frequently of harassment and intimidation of teachers by police, headmasters and education officials.
Chey Chap, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Education, was not surprised by the announcement about the suspension of the strike.
“Even if there was no such appeal, teachers have been going back to work already,” he said. “Not a lot of people joined the strike.”
Rong Chhun said the union and teachers would spend the next few weeks coming up with a new strategy. He vowed he will “remain firm and serve impartially the interest of teachers.”
Rong Chhun called off the strike just one day after sending a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for government intervention.
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Workers Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia, called the teacher strike “a failure, but a good idea” for the inexperienced CITA.
“CITA has just been organized, so they don’t have enough experience to have strong leadership,” he said. He suggested CITA should mobilize teachers by holding regular meetings and making its strategy clear.
Nuon Rithy, national worker training director for the International Labor Organization’s Phnom Penh office, said that while his organization concentrates on training union workers in private sectors, at least one Malaysian representative from the International Teachers Union has shown interest in meeting Rong Chhun.
Nuon Rithy said Cambodians have a long tradition of fearing threats from officials. “But step-by-step, with support from international organizations and education, they will lose that fear,” he said.