More than 100,000 public schools teachers remain on strike in Jordan for a second week in a row demanding a 50 percent pay rise to their near poverty-line salaries.
They’re demanding the government honour its five-year-old promise to boost salaries 50 percent since they, like most Jordanians, suffer high inflation, abysmal living conditions, and exorbitant costs of living.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Some 1.3 million public schools students have not attended classes since the start of the school year because of the strike.
One teacher in the capital, Amman, told Al Jazeera the government has misled the public about their plight.
“Public schools teachers are barely eking out a living on government salaries and, therefore, must look for second jobs such as driving taxis or working as labourers in order to support their families,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Tens of thousands of teachers protested at government headquarters in Amman and in other provinces last week demanding Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz to engage directly to resolve the teachers’ complaints instead of delegating to subordinates.
Teachers union officials told Al Jazeera some protesting teachers were verbally abused and physically assaulted by police and paramilitary forces during the demonstration. More than 50 teachers were arrested but later released.
A public school teacher in Jordan makes between 360-450 Jordanian dinar per month ($500-$635 ), about equal to the “absolute poverty line” of 340 dinar ($479) for a family of five each month, according to Jordan’s department of statistics.
According to the teachers union, a first-year teacher with a Bachelor degree makes about 360 dinar ($500) a month with an automatic yearly raise of about 3-10 dinar ($5-$13), depending on their qualifications and experience.
The government says the teachers’ demands amount to 116 million dinars ($163m) – money it says it does not have.
Officials argue any raises must be tied to teachers’ performance, which means they would have to publish independent research, take outside courses, and attend academic seminars in order to qualify. Even then, very few would actually do so.
“On top of our school work and family obligations, where we would we find the time to conduct research or take outside training to qualify for the government raise?” asked the teacher.
Government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat told local media on Tuesday the prime minister – who was previously minister of education – doesn’t have to meet the teachers personally.
“The solution to this issue is [for the teachers union] to sit with the ministerial delegation without any pre-conditions and to push for the return of the students to their seats,” Ghunaimat said.
Member of Parliament Khalil Atieh told Al Jazeera on the phone from Amman while he supports the teachers’ right to improve their living conditions with a raise, he disagreed with the union’s “entrenchment” and “refusal” to end the strike and get back class.
Atieh accused the teachers of misrepresenting the government’s pledge to raise their salaries. “The government has never committed itself, officially, to give the teachers the raise they have been demanding since 2014.”
Walid al-Jallad, an education ministry spokesman, supported Atieh’s comments, telling a local TV station the government never made the promises the teachers claim.
“The teachers should end their strike and come to the negotiations table without any preconditions,” he said.
Noureddien Nadim, the teachers’ union spokesman, told Al Jazeera that educators don’t trust government officials or parliamentarians after five years of inaction.
He said in 2014 the teachers mistakenly believed the government’s pledge to provide the 50 percent raise, which was guaranteed and documented by parliament.
“Five years later, both the government and the parliament reneged on their promises and failed the teachers who are educating the entire country,” Nadim said.
“Teachers are fed up with the government’s lies and deception tactics to demonise the teachers and rob them of their basic right to live in dignity and support their families.”
Nadim said the teachers have three demands: issue a formal apology for physical abuse at the recent protest; recognise their right to the 50 percent raise; and hold a meaningful dialogue.
Nadim said the government should also end its media smear campaign against public school teachers.
“The biggest lesson we are trying to teach our students here is that they should fight for their dignity and their rights and must hold the government to account – not the other way around,” he said.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports