By Chathuri Dissanayake
The question that teachers have been struggling to get an answer from the government for 11 long years went unanswered once again this week, but this time, the teachers decided to get tough and gave the government a June 30th deadline to meet their demands or meet them in courts.
At Tuesday’s talks with officials of the Salaries and Cadres Commission (SCC) and the government, three main teacher trade unions demanded that their salaries be raised and salary anomalies be rectified, but the response given by the government and SCC officials did not satisfy the teachers.The only positive outcome was the unions agreeing to suspend trade union action until the end of this month – a deadline of sorts for the government to come up with an acceptable solution to the crisis.
|Teachers joining a demonstration in support of their demand for a salary hike
Spearheading the teacher’s trade union action are the Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union, the Education Professionals Association and the All Ceylon United Teachers’ Union.
The Ceylon Teachers’ Union and the Home Science and Agriculture Diploma holders Union broke away from the trade union alliance that placed the demands.
The Salaries and Cadres Commission has rejected proposals submitted by the unions and the Education Ministry on two occasions because of the heavy economic burden they would place on the government.
“If we give in to the demand, the government will have to incur an expense of more than Rs. 10 billion to pay the salaries of 200,000 teachers,” SCC chairman Lionel Fernando said.
Besides, if the teachers were given a rise, other government servants, numbering 1.1 million, would also demand a pay hike – a demand the government would find it difficult to meet, he said.
Though the teacher unions decided to suspend trade union action until the end of this month, they displayed their dissatisfaction by not applying for marking of Advanced Level answer papers until the salary issue is resolved.
According to a union official, only about 600 teachers have applied so far for paper marking – a sharp drop when compared with the number of applications by June in previous years. Some 15,000 teachers usually apply. Of them, 12,000 are called for duty, the official said.
Last week, the teachers launched a sick note campaign, prompting the government to close all state schools on Wednesday and Thursday. Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said they decided to close schools because leaving the children without teachers was too dangerous.
The unions said they decided to launch the sick leave campaign as the last resort after numerous discussions with government officials produced nothing. “The issue did not begin recently. We raised it 11 years ago and since 2004, have been holding discussions and urging the government to solve it. But neither the Chandrika Kumaratunga government nor the present government has given us any assurance. It was against this backdrop that last year we refused to mark the A/L answer papers. Talks resumed after that but we have achieved nothing,” Ceylon Teachers Services Union Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe said.
He said the problem began in 1997 after the introduction of the B. C. Perera salaries commission. The teachers’ service was recognised as a separate profession in the 1994 education reforms. According to these reforms, teachers were categorized into five classes with the first three classes - from class 1 to class 3 – being equated to the top three classes of the education administrative services. However the 1997 salary reforms saw the end of this structure.
“There was reason for the 1994 move. There are about 200,000 teachers in the country and they have little room for promotions. Not every one can join the education administration service or become principals. Thus the salary equalisation with the education services was brought in as an incentive to keep the teachers who are qualified in class rooms,” Mr. Jayasinghe.
He said their present demand was not for equal status with the education administrative services but for the establishment of the salary scales which existed before the 1997 reforms.
“Our stand is that our salaries should be increased in terms of the formula that existed before the 1997 reforms. We have told the government that after June 30, we will go to courts if we do not get a just solution,” Mr. Jayasinghe said.
He claimed that under the previous system, a trained graduate teacher was able to surpass the salary of a Class 3 officer in the education administration in six increments, but today many qualified teachers receive only a meagre salary. Besides, under the existing system, a teacher should possess a degree and a post-graduate diploma in education with 15 years of experience to qualify for Class 1, in terms of the hierarchy defined by the teacher services minutes while a trained teacher should have 20 years of experience to receive the same promotion, he said and lamented that teachers with such high qualifications receive a salary of only Rs. 21,300 a month..
“The SCC is of the opinion that all these teachers should be lower in hierarchy than the officers of Class 3 in education services. Even a teacher who posses 20 years of experience will receive a lower salary than a fresh recruit (Class 3) of the education services. This is why we are opposing the present system and demanding that the anomalies be rectified.
The union secretary said that in the wake of teacher’s boycott of A/L answer paper marking and the subsequent legal wrangle, the SCC came up with a proposal last year following a cabinet directive, but the unions rejected its proposal.
“In this proposal the SCC had created an additional class, called Supra, which is higher than Class 1. Teachers who count seven years as class one teachers will be promoted to Supra class, but they were placed at the Rs. 22,800 salary scale, which is lower than the salary scale of Class 3 in the education administrative service. This is not acceptable. This happens in no other sector. For example, in the health sector, a nurse with long years of service will receive a higher salary than a newly-appointed doctor. But this has not given rise to any issues in terms of authority,” Mr. Jayasinghe said.
Responding, SCC chairman Fernando said: “The teachers’ demand is impossible to meet. We cannot mess around with the salaries and the hierarchy. The hierarchy should be maintained,”
He said there were court rulings which also upheld the present hierarchy.