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Threatened teacher strike in limbo

Threatened teacher strike in limbo

THE newly-formed Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) attributes the

failure of a declared Feb 1 national teachers strike to alleged police intimidation.

CITA President Rong Chhun, claimed on Jan 31 that as many as 70,000 of Cambodia's

estimated 85,000 primary, high school and university teachers would walk off the

job on Feb 1 to demand pay increases. On Feb 1 he told the Post that the strike call

had been ignored by teachers fearful of plainsclothes police positioned around schools

in Phnom Penh and Kandal.

Chhun said that teachers at nine schools he'd visited had ignored the police presence

and gone on strike anyway.

He added that the strike call remained in effect and he was hopeful it would eventually

become nation-wide.

"We have no choice because our salaries are low," Chhun said. "I think

if the government wants to improve human resources and the quality of education,

it has to increase [teachers] living wage."

The strike was called to push teachers' demands for an increase in their average

monthly salary of between $20 and $30 per month to $100. Chhun said Prime Minister

Hun Sen's December announcement of a 10% salary increase for teachers was inadequate.

"We will not organize protest demonstrations," Chhun, a math teacher at

Hun Sen Secondary School in Kandal's S'aang District, said of the threatened strike.

"Teachers will come to school as normal, but won't teach their students."

Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education Pok Than told the Post that the ministry

was unable to meet teachers demands because the government didn't have the money.

"It would be a big problem if many teachers go on strike as they threaten...we

need the teachers to understand [the government's financial constraints" said

Than.

According to Chhun, however, the solution to the salary crisis was a fair and transparent

distribution process of government funds.

"I believe the government can raise our salaries if they have the will to fight

corruption," he said.

The teachers right to strike has been supported by the NGO Education International

(EI), which represents over 24 million teachers in 155 countries.

In a letter to Pok Than dated Jan. 26 from Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of

EI's Regional Asia-Pacific office in Brussels, the government was urged not to interfere

with the teachers legal right to strike.

"We urge you [Pok Than] to ensure that this harassment and intimidation stops

immediately," Leeuwen wrote of alleged official intimidation tactics..

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