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Teachers’ wage rally blocked

CITA members gather to demand an increase in salaries at a protest yesterday in Phnom Penh.
CITA members gather to demand an increase in salaries at a protest yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Teachers’ wage rally blocked

On the same day that Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech touting salary increases for teachers ahead of next year’s national election, about 20 Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) members were blocked from having a peaceful demonstration seeking just that.

Daun Penh security guards prevented the CITA members from gathering near the Council for the Development Cambodia yesterday, which was also World Teachers’ Day. The guards only allowed five representatives to deliver the petition – calling for monthly salaries of about $500 – to the Ministry of Education, the National Assembly, the prime minister’s cabinet and the Council of Ministers.

CITA President Ouk Chhayvy said the association had informed City Hall of the gathering, as required by law.

“We filed a letter to inform Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, but authorities did not allow us to gather,” she said. The group still met, but were greeted by the guards.

Met Measpheakdey, a municipal spokesman, said City Hall told CITA it was only allowed to gather at its office or in a private location, but it wasn’t allowed to demonstrate or hold a parade in a public space.

“It affects the security and public order as it can cause [traffic] congestion,” he said.

However, under the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, when authorities are informed of a peaceful demonstration, officials are required to “respond positively toward the notification letter”, except if the gathering is to be held on major holidays, such as the King’s birthday.

The law also requires officials to coordinate with relevant authorities to mitigate traffic congestion.

San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he doubted the association’s gathering would have affected public order at all.

“The action . . . is a crackdown on freedom of expression,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen, during his speech at the National Institute of Education, promised to protect teachers’ benefits in order to improve their livelihoods, and to enhance the quality of education.

He also pledged to make amendments in the law to increase teachers’ retirement age from 60 to 65 – a fix he was confident the CPP-controlled National Assembly would approve.

“I support the education reforms, including the examination and teacher reforms, to develop the profession regularly for teachers,” he said. “In 2017, the lowest teachers’ salary is 950,000 riel [about $247.50], and this is 400,000 riel higher than in 2013 . . . In 2018, it will go up to at least 1 million riel.”

In 2013, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party campaigned on a promise to bring teachers’ and other civil servants’ monthly salaries up to 1 million riel (about $250), an idea that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party dismissed as unreasonable at the time, but has since pursued.

In its petition, CITA is asked for teachers’ base salaries to go up to 2 million riel beginning in 2018, a request Sam Oeun Chin, education officer for the NGO ActionAid, said was out of the Ministry of Education’s reach.

“I don’t believe it can increase up to 2 million riel based on the government’s budget for the education sector,” he said.

As to raising the teacher retirement age, Oeun Chin said the move could have pros and cons. It could promote the profession as people can work longer, but with age, performance could also diminish.

Hun Sen yesterday said he would also start implementing more teacher incentives, such as a “medal of honour” for the teachers whose students achieved “A” grades on the nationwide grade-12 exams.

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