Teachers Strike Mostly Over, Education Says

The three-week-old teachers strike is finished because many teachers returned to work last week, Pok Than, the Secretary of State for Education, asserted Wednesday.

Negotiations, however, would continue. “It’s pretty much over,” he said.

Pok Than said that teachers returned because “they believed the government” and were hoping for a raise next year. The government has repeatedly said that it does not have the money to give raises and has tried to appease the teachers by offering to slash salaries of top civil servants and give a $5 a month “bonus.”

“They are still striking in their hearts,” Pok Than said of the teachers who had returned to their desks. He added that other teachers were holding out because of ideas of “social justice or possibly political party affiliation.”

The true test will be Monday when schools re-open. “I suspect they’ll go back next week,” said one NGO worker at the Royal University of Phnom Penh referring to his Cambodian colleagues.

Representatives of striking teachers met Friday with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, according to Nuth Sa An, an aide to Sar Kheng. But he said he did not have details of the meeting.

Earlier this week, Ly Phatsem, mathematics professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that 22 teacher representatives were scheduled to see Sar Kheng on Friday.

“The striking teachers hope to get a good result from our proposals,” said Ly Phatsem on Wednesday, although he added that he was not personally very hopeful. He maintained that the university teachers would remain on strike along with five Phnom Penh high schools. The university is the biggest school in the country.

Teachers initially went on strike on Jan 25 for a raise from $15 to $316 per month. Striking teachers are now asking to be allowed to do eight hours of research per week paid at $2.30 per hour, a reduction in teaching hours from 12 to six to eight per week and that money be paid for preparation time outside of class.

They also are asking that the $5 bonus granted to them last month be higher, although the proposal does not state how high it should be, and for professors to be paid if they teach at other institutions.

Pok Than said that he had not received a copy of the proposal and could not comment on it.

At least 12 Phnom Penh high schools re-opened last week when many high school teachers returned to work. Teachers complained, however, that they had been threatened with being fired if they did not return.

Primary schools were not affected by the strike.

Pok Than said that he did not have exact numbers for those currently on strike because of the mid-term break.

A spokeswoman for the human rights group Licadho said that it had not received reports of intimidation or widespread human rights abuses. “It seems to have ended well,” said Eva Galabru, Licadho director.

It is still unclear exactly how many teachers were on strike in the past three weeks. Strikes were confirmed by Licadho in at least 12 provinces.


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