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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Teachers face off with RCG today

Teachers face off with RCG today

ANOTHER attempt will be made today to end the teachers dispute which has seen strikes

cripple Phnom Penh University and a number of high schools.

While the strike's effect and support has been hard to gauge this week due to the

end of the semester and Chinese new year holiday, which has meant many teaching institutions

have been closed, the dispute is continuing.

A number of schools have said their teachers have returned to work but teachers representatives

said that further industrial action was likely if there was no resolution at today's

meetings with deputy prime minister Sar Kheng.

Attempts have been made over the last week to end the walk out which has centered

on the low pay rates for teachers. Sar Kheng has had two meeting with teacher representatives

so far and another is scheduled for today.

Ten professors from the university of Phnom Penh met Sar Kheng and co-ministers of

interior on February 11 to talk about settling the strike.

Prof Ly Phatsem, was one of those who attended. He said that three points were raised

in the talks that day: that their salaries be progressively increased to $300 a month,

salaries to be paid on time and an additional payment for extra work.

He said that Sar Kheng agreed on the last two points, but not to the pay rise which

he said was impossible because they did not have the money.

However he said that Kheng told them that the Government was in the process of instituting

administrative reforms such as eliminating ghost soldiers and police, and then would

put the money saved towards education.

"HE Kheng has pledged us that in the year 2000, the government would increase

the salary, but he did not mention how much.

"And furthermore, HE Kheng said if the government was not able to increase [salaries],

he, himself would step down, and the government should also step down," Prof

Lyphatsem said.

Those assurances have gone some way towards lessening tension, but the matter is

still unresolved.

With government claiming poverty teachers are now looking to a compromise that involves

a reduction in teaching hours.

"We proposed that for the superior educational professors, the teaching time

should be cut from twelve hours per week to six or seven hours," he said.

He said he was optimistic that an acceptable solution would be reached at today's

meeting but if there wasn't the industrial action would continue.

"If there is not an acceptable solution, we still go on strike," he said.

Sar Kheng said that he could not give any indication of the likely outcome of the

meeting because he has been too busy to examine the latest proposal which he believes

might be detrimental to the standard of education.

"I cannot respond, a consultation is required because it would affect the student's

study," he said.

He acknowledged that the teachers did have a good case to demand better pay and conditions

however he said it was not practical at the moment.

"The war in our country has just ended, the government has just been formed

for less than two months, this is a tough request.

"They should let the government breath for while, to aspirate for a period of

time," he commented.

Meanwhile there are some indications that teacher solidarity is starting to wane.

Tep Sokun, deputy director of Sisowat High School said that the teachers at his school

had returned to work a week ago.

He denied that they had been forced back to work.

"There have been staff from the ministry of interior coming here to collect

information but there was no intimidation."

Meanwhile teaching staff at the Institute of Technology have resumed work, but they

want the government to keep considering their claims and at the same time try and

clamp down on corruption in an effort to free up some money for education.

Prof Pok Leakreasey said there was a large financial gap between teachers and other

civil servants who were lining their pockets by corruption.

"The teachers are getting poorer and poorer, what we want from the government

is the determination to eliminate corruption so that more state revenue is available

for teachers and other civil servants," he said.



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