Jordan’s Teachers Vow to Strike until They Receive Raise Promised in 2014
To meet strikers’ demands, Amman needs $158 million, a sum it will probably find difficult to come up with
Less than a week into the school year, the Jordanian Teachers Association began an open-ended strike on Sunday, demanding that the government pay educators a raise equal to 50 percent of their basic salary to honor an agreement it says was reached in 2014.
The decision to strike was made on Thursday following widespread protests, during which security forces dispersed a group of teachers who tried to march outside the government headquarters in the capital Amman.
Ghaleb Abu Gdesh, a senior official in the teachers union, told The Media Line that educators had assembled on Thursday for a “normal protest” to demand their rights based on an agreement – one that was not officially ratified, but was witnessed by officials – to increase their salaries at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. The teachers were surprised, he said, when, due to an “ill-judged order,” security forces attacked several of them, while other teachers “were blocked from reaching the protest.”
Another senior union official insisted there would be no return to work until the government made good on its promise.
“There will be an open-ended strike until the raise is realized,” union vice president Nasser Al-Nawasra said Saturday evening during a news conference.
He noted that the decision to strike had been adopted unanimously on Thursday during a meeting held at union headquarters by council members and the heads of provincial branches. (Abu Gdesh claimed the strike was supported by 99% of the rank and file, something he called “historic.”)
Nawasra stressed that the decision followed an unsuccessful meeting between the union and the Education Ministry in the presence of Ibrahim al-Budoor, a lawmaker who heads the parliamentary Education Committee. He said, however, that the door remained open for further talks, adding that the union was not a proponent of strikes or sit-ins.
Yihya al-Soud, another Jordanian lawmaker, told The Media Line that efforts were moving toward a solution.
“There is parliamentary meditation through a committee to find alternative ways to ease the teachers’ suffering,” Soud elaborated, explaining that lawmakers had played a major role in solving similar disputes in the past.
He noted that some schools in the kingdom remained open and urged the government to find a “fair solution for the teachers,” and for teachers to “favor the language of reason and dialogue to the benefit of students.”
Referring to Thursday’s protests, Mahmoud al-Kharabsheh, a Jordanian political analyst and former member of parliament, pointed out to The Media Line that teachers had a right to assemble peacefully and express their opinions, but this must remain within the law.
“Teachers should be concerned and responsible for the next generation’s best interests and prepare them for the future,” he said. He added, however, that the timing of the protest was “absolutely wrong since the new school semester had barely started…. Meanwhile, we have more than a million students in the streets, out of school because of the strike.”
Kharabsheh urged both sides to engage in dialogue and find a fair solution.
“The government will need 112 million Jordanian dinars [about $158 million] as an addition to its budget to meet the teachers’ demands,” he said, stressing that this put it in a difficult situation.
Last year, due to a faltering economy, Jordanian prime minister Hani Mulki resigned at the behest of King Abdullah II, who moved to quell what became the largest wave of protests to hit the kingdom in years. Tens of thousands of people stormed the streets of Amman and surrounding areas to vent anger over International Monetary Fund-driven austerity measures, including a hike in the sales tax and the removal of bread subsidies.
Jordan is largely dependent on foreign aid, a situation that has become even more pressing due to the massive influx of Syrian and other refugees.