Barring a major breakthrough, classes next week could be dismissed for a long while because of a nationwide teachers strike, an independent teachers’ union official said Thursday.
Although the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association represents only a handful of teachers around the nation, 80 percent of the country’s teachers could walk off the job Feb 1 unless the government agrees to raise salaries to $100 per month, CITA President Rong Chhun said.
“We stand by our demands,” Rong Chhun said.
Even though CITA represents few of the nation’s estimated 80,000 teachers, the overwhelming majority share the union’s goals, Rong Chhun said.
A petition signed by 24 teachers from Samrong Ponlei Junior High School in Ponlei commune, Angkor Borei district, Takeo province, supports the organization’s appeal for a salary increase beyond the 10 percent being offered by the government.
A teacher’s base pay is about $9 per month, but bonuses and special pay allow instructors to take home between $20 and $30 per month.
Late last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a 10 percent raise for civil servants.
At the time, Rong Chhun expressed thanks for the raise, but said it wasn’t enough to stop the strike.
The government has since refused to negotiate with CITA, and has made no counter offers beyond the 10 percent raise, Rong Chhun said.
Earlier this month, Rong Chhun said instructors had been the target of government intimidation designed to prevent the proposed walk-out.
CITA, a breakaway teachers’ union formed because of dissatisfaction with the Khmer Teachers Association, will host a seminar on teachers’ working conditions at a Phnom Penh hotel beginning Saturday, Rong Chhun said.
A tentative agenda provided by the union says the two-day seminar will feature speeches from members of the Ministry of Education, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Education International, and CITA officials on such topics as collective bargaining, human rights, ways to increase membership and conditions in schools.
At this point, the only thing that will prevent a prolonged strike is for the government to come to the table, Rong Chhun said.
“So far, the government hasn’t responded. If the government would negotiate, we could work out a deal. But so far, nothing,” Rong Chhun said.
Pok Than, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, said “ministry leaders will meet this weekend to discuss these issues and how we can resolve them.”
Once the government comes up with a plan of action, they will be happy to sit with CITA, Pok Than said.
Even so, Pok Than said there is little room for compromise. The budget is already stretched, and so the goal of the negotiation would center on getting the teachers to accept the 10 percent raise, he said. “Actually, we don’t have the ability to give the teachers a raise, and we need teachers to understand that.”