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Teachers union pushes for insurance benefits

Public school teachers are demanding the government provide them the health insurance their meagre civil servant salaries can’t cover.

Yesterday, 40 teachers from Takeo’s Tram Kak district joined the call for health insurance during a Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) meeting banned by district officials.

District Governor Tek Tonglim had tried to prevent the teachers from gathering, sending a letter to CITA on Friday informing them that no meeting would be permitted during Sunday’s commune council elections. The teachers met anyway and had no problems, according to Takeo’s CITA director.

During the meeting, teachers complained of being unable to afford even basic medical care, let alone treatment for more severe illnesses.

“Last year, I got Chikungunya [a tropical disease] . . . and I had to spend more than $30 for treatment. It is not much for the rich, but it was too much money for me to pay,” said Nget Neang, a teacher at Kla Krohem primary school in Takeo.

Teachers, who typically earn a starting salary of $100 per month, have for years called on the government to raise their wages, and in January, hundreds of teachers around the Kingdom staged strikes demanding $250 per month.

Rong Chhun, president of CITA, said upcoming strikes will add health insurance to the list of demands.

“If they receive health insurance, it will help them reduce their spending,” he said.

Cambodia spends much less on health per capita than other countries in the region, doling out just over $50 per capita in 2012, compared with the regional average exceeding $700.

While Thailand has had universal health care since 2002, and Vietnam plans to expand its socialised system from 64 per cent of the population to all citizens by the end of year, the Cambodian National Social Security Fund’s announcement last month that it would start providing private-sector workers health insurance was met with some scepticism.

A Ministry of Health official who declined to be named as he lacked authority to speak to the press yesterday scoffed at the idea of similar insurance for civil servants, adding that it was “highly unlikely” the government could do more than continue subsidising health expenses for poor Cambodians any time soon.

Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron could not be reached.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAIGNEE BARRON

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