Teachers Question How Union Spends Dues

Rank-and-file members of the Khmer Teachers Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, are raising questions about how the union is using their dues.

The founder of a rival union, meanwhile, says the KTA has never pushed the government for better conditions for teachers.

Teachers in Phnom Penh, Takeo and Kandal provinces complain that they must contribute 1,300 riel ($0.33) every month to the KTA, but aren’t told clearly how the money is used.

Yang Khy, the union’s director, gave a breakdown of what happens to the money:

•The bulk of each teacher’s monthly contribution, 900 riel, goes to a fund to pay one-time death benefits for the families of teachers who die.

•Another 300 riel goes to support four special “teacher” guest houses in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot and Kep where teachers can stay at reduced rates.

•The final 100 riel is for monthly dues.

The KTA said it has 83,477 members, more than the estimated 80,000 teachers working in the country today, because some members are retired.

If all are paying 1,300 riel monthly, then the union collects nearly $28,000 per month from its membership.

Yang Khy says that on average, 35 teachers die per month, and the union pays out about $385 (1.5 million riel) to each surviving family. That means an average monthly death benefit payout of about $13,475, leaving about $14,525 per month for other union projects.

Chey Chap, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Edu­cation, applauded KTA’s efforts to support teachers and their families with the death benefits.

But teachers say they have been paying into the funds for five years, and they’re not sure the numbers add up.

“My salary has been [deducted] for teachers dying, but I have never been told [clearly] how many people died,” said one teacher in Takeo, who asked not to be identified.

Yang Khy said that through October last year, 407 teachers and 245 teacher spouses died. The union makes a lump-sum payment of $128 to teachers whose spouses die, he said.

He said that since the union was formed in 1995, it had paid death benefits for nearly 2,000 teachers and 1,260 teacher spouses.

Some teachers interviewed were skeptical of those numbers, arguing that if so many teachers had died, Cambodia would be facing a teacher shortage.

Teachers also question the union’s policy of building guesthouses for only members to use. Rong Chhon, a teacher in Kan­dal, said the guesthouses seem to be used by school officials more than the rank-and-file.

“How can [teachers] afford the money to visit these guest houses?” he asked, adding that these buildings are only used by a small number of rich and powerful education officials.

Rong Chhon, president of the newly formed Cambodian Inde­pen­dent Teachers Associa­tion, a rival union, said that some teachers feel coerced into paying dues to the Khmer Teachers Asso­ciation. The Cambo­dian Inde­pendent Teachers Asso­ciation has called for a strike Feb 1, and is demanding a $100-per-month salary for teachers.

Some teachers said they do not oppose the  KTA’s goals, but they said they want the union to be more open about how it is spending their money.

The teachers say they face other drains on their already small salaries. They said they are required to make monthly donations to political leaders, as well kick in 500 riel each to the school official who delivers their pay each month.

In one case, they said an education official in Bati district, Takeo pro­vince, used teachers’ money to make a personal donation to a pagoda’s Kathen fundraising.

Overall, the teachers said their payments come to about 3,000 riel each month.

While teachers’ base salary is about $9 per month, bonuses and other special pay boost that to between $20 and $30 per month for most teachers.



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