Teachers Vote Today Whether to End Strike

Encouraged by a meeting Friday with Deputy Prime Min­ister Sar Kheng, striking teachers in Phnom Penh are to meet today to decide whether to end their nearly month-old walkout, representatives said Sunday.

“We see a little light,” said Ly Phatsem, a mathematics professor representing instructors from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Sar Kheng, also co-minister of Interior, met with 17 teacher representatives Friday to discuss their latest, six-point proposal. He promised at the meeting to set up a technical team to resolve the teachers’ complaints.

Ly Phatsem quoted the deputy premier as saying, “I guarantee to solve this problem.”

University professors are to meet today to vote on whether to go back to work pending formation of the committee, Ly Phat­sem said. “But our demand to increase salaries is still going on.”

Ra Vuth, who represents teachers from Yukhonthor High School, said his colleagues would also vote today on whether to continue to strike.

“On Monday, the teachers will not teach. We will only vote,” Ra Vuth said.

However, Sok Phal, an information officer in the Ministry of Interior, said teachers at the meeting promised to return to work Monday. “They signed a paper saying they would work,” he said.

As many as 1,000 teachers in the capital have been on strike since Jan 25, when they walked out demanding higher pay. An average teacher now makes about $20 per month.

The teachers originally called for their salaries to be raised to about $300 per month, but they have since dropped that demand.

Some teachers have abandoned the strike over the weeks, but five high schools—Yukhon­thor, Endradevi, Santhor Mok, Boeung Trabak and Baktuk—and the Royal Univer­sity of Phnom Penh are still paralyzed by the dispute, Ly Phatsem said.

The teachers’ new proposal asks for them to be allowed to do eight hours of research per week paid at $2.30 per hour. They want a reduction in teaching hours from 12 hours a week to as few as six per week.

The proposal also calls for teachers to be paid for preparation time outside of class. The teachers are also asking for an increase in the 20,000-riel (about $5) bonus granted to them last month—although the proposal does not state how high it should be—and for professors to be paid if they teach at other institutions, Ly Phatsem said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has appealed for striking teachers to be patient, saying the government is broke. He said the Finance Ministry will even have trouble paying the 20,000-riel bonus granted by the Council of Ministers in January in a futile attempt to prevent the strike.



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