Teachers vs state [Archives:2006/946/Reportage]

May 15 2006

By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
The three teachers' syndicates (Yemeni Teachers Syndicate, High Syndicate for Educational Professions, and Technical and Vocational Education Syndicate) demanded the government attend to teachers' legal rights and payment of financial allowances included in the new wage law.

On October 17, 2005 the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate (YTS) granted the government a few days' respite until the end of October; otherwise teachers would resort to all forms of protests. In its meeting, the YTS also adopted different protesting activities, and called on all teachers to:

– Go out on a general strike all over the country as from November 22 2005;

– Wear red badges as from November 26 and continue for two days;

– Go out on partial strike as from November 29 till December 1;

– Go out on inclusive strike on December 3.

On November 22, teachers staged a sit-in nationwide. In Sana'a, the sit-in was held across at the ministerial Cabinet's premises. A delegation from the teachers' syndicates met with the Minister of Education, Minister of Technical Training and Vocational Education, and State Minister and Secretariat Mayor. The delegation discussed teachers' demands, which the government representatives described as “legal, indisputable demands.” The authorities asked the delegation for yet some more time until the end of December to execute the details of the new wage law.

The same day, the three teachers' syndicates held a meeting to discuss the outcome of the sit-in, and decided to postpone the strike agreed upon. During that period, they held different meetings with the Minister of Education and other officials from Ministry of Civil Service. The government had not fulfilled its promises toward teachers' demands till the end of December, and consequently the syndicates issued another statement and called on teachers to:

– Organize peaceful demonstrations nationwide on February 14,2006;

– Go out on gradual strike, starting with wearing red badges as from March 14.

In practice, teachers all over the country held demonstrations on February 14 to protest against the government's hesitation in the implementation of their legal demands. On March 21, they went out on a massive strike throughout the country, and the government responded to their protest with arbitrary as well as abusive procedures. Teachers' syndicates denounced such illegal acts and arbitrary measures by the Ministry of Education and educational bodies against teachers. Arbitrary and abusive measures included incidents of dismissal, threats of suspending salaries of those wearing red badges, insulting teachers using offensive terms, threatening female teachers, and arresting some others, and the like.

Teachers' syndicates appealed to the President of the Republic, Ministry of Human Rights, the Parliament, Attorney General and Minister of Education to look into such illegal acts. They called on teachers to hold a massive demonstration, this time to protest against illegal practices by education authorities, to be held on April 3. But one day before the demonstration, President Saleh met with the heads of teachers' syndicates and assured them regarding their demands. They saw it as a positive response, and the teachers' syndicate decided to postpone the demonstration until further notice.

The YTS has reported all the illegal acts against teachers throughout the country.

Capital Secretariat

The Capital Secretariat is said to have witnessed the largest protests. Teachers who responded to protests faced a variety of abusive measures in some 55 schools. Such measures were taken by educational authorities and local authorities. They included threatening teachers, intimidating female teachers and reporting them to the Ministry of Education; teachers were dismissed from schools, and were accused of belonging to political parties, most notably Islah Party; some teachers were also insulted verbally and were forbidden from signing in the attendance list; some others were forbidden from entering class rooms; headmasters and /or headmistresses dispensed with the services of some teachers and deducted part of their salaries; in similar cases, teachers were threatened to be fired.

Here, thousands of teachers took part both in the strikes and sits-in. On November 22, around 5,000 teachers staged their first sit-in in front of the Cabinet premises; and on February 14 more than 10,000 teachers held a rally at Al-Tahrir Squar and then marched to the Parliament and Cabinet Premises. March 28, around 7,000 teachers staged a sit-in at the Cabinet. Anti-riot forces, supported by security forces, tried to prevent them from approaching the place.

Sana'a governorate

In some schools, the headmaster threatened protesting teachers to dismiss them from school, suspend their feeding, and lock them out of their accommodation. The head of the educational Center suspended 5 teachers from work. Another headmaster dispensed with the service of 16 teachers. Some teachers were threatened to be fired, and their salaries to be suspended and deducted, while other teachers were moved to other schools.

Sana'a governorate witnessed similar protests as 85% of teachers staged different strikes and sits-in. Approximately 1,000 teachers staged a sit-in in front of the Governorate premises in March 28, while security authorities tried to prevent them from entering the Capital Secretariat to join their colleagues in the sit-in before the Cabinet premises.

Taiz governorate

Teachers in 60 schools faced illegal measures throughout the governorate. Mr. Abdulrahman Moahmmed Al-Maqtari, General Secretariat of Yemeni Teachers Syndicate-Taiz Branch, was arrested by security authorities and remained in custody for few hours. In one district of the governorate, a headmaster arrested 10 teachers and sent them to prison where they remained for six days. Mr. Abdu Mohammed Al-Raimi, a prominent leader at the YTS, was also arrested. Education authorities practiced illegal acts against teachers. They included replacing some headmasters with other teachers; some headmasters were suspended from work; teachers were not allowed to sign on the attendance list; they were offended by insulting words; some were deleted from the attendance list; and others were deliberately dropped from the salary record.

In some schools, a few education officials threatened teachers by bringing security forces to force them out of school. In another school, the head of the Education Office of Taiz governorate ripped off the red badge of teacher Ragheb Saeed Abdu. Teachers were also threatened unless they stop strike. Some were threatened to be excluded to remote schools.

The largest number of teachers participating in the protests was reported in Taiz. More than 45,000 teachers took part in the sit-in of November 2005. On February 14, around 30,000 teachers took part in a massive demonstration and marched main streets. Statistics showed that 90% of teachers were in favor of the protests.

Ibb governorate

The YTS of Ibb reported different illegal measures against teachers all over the governorate. It observed 20 cases of forceful change of the work location; 15 cases of sacked teachers; and 60 cases of redistributing teachers among schools. According to its final report, the arbitrary procedures by the local authority included:

– The General Secretariat of the Governorate, in participation with the Education Office, singed on dismissing and expelling teachers, in addition to issuing a joint statement to prevent the strike.

– Headmasters and headmistresses visited schools and threatened teachers; sent soldiers to threaten teachers; approving the dismissal of teachers; provoking parents against the teachers.

Hadramout governorate

Security authority arrested Mr. Aqil Al-Attas, head of YTS in the governorate, as he refused to abstain from organizing demonstrations, and remained in detention for five hours. He was arrested again after the demonstration in which 5,000 teachers took part. He was released after seven hours. The General Secretariat of the YTS and Mr. Mohammed Omer Ba Wazeer were also arrested for two hours. Teachers did not participate, however, in the demonstration of March 28. According to the YTS's statistics, 95% of teachers were in favor of the protests.

Other governorates

In Al-Baida governorate, 80% of teachers and education workers held similar protests. In Abyan governorate, 1,500 teachers took part in the demonstration of February 14, but they did not hold another one on March 28.

About 70% of teachers and education workers in Al-Hudeida governorate conducted sits-in and went out on strikes. They did not, however, participate in the massive sit-in of March 28.

In Dhamar governorate, teachers as well as education workers participated in the protest of November 2005. They also staged a demonstration on March 28. Other governorates witnessed similar protests and similar illegal practices by the different educational authorities.

Teachers Syndicates

The three teachers' syndicate showed consolidation with teachers and their demands. Mr. Hussein Nasser Al-Khawlani, head of the YTS at the Capital Secretariat, said the government seems to be unable to fulfill its obligations toward teachers' demands, which is discredit on its part. “The illegal practices against teachers contradicted the democratic trend of the government. They included dismissal from school, dispense with the service of teachers, ripping off the red badges on teachers' shirts, using insulting words. Some teachers were moved to remote allocations, and some were fired. Students from the Faculty of Education were brought to replace them, which directly breaks the law. Some teachers were arrested by security forces. Some headmasters deducted part of teachers' salaries. I hope the government shall not make us resort to protest again,” Al-Khawlani said.

The head of the Technical and Vocational Education Syndicate, Mr. Yahya Al-Hakim, stated that the syndicate first resorted to talks, and then to conducting protests as the government did not respond to their demands. “As the government assured us it would not take any procedure against teachers who participated in the sit-in and strikes, we were shocked to hear some teachers complain against wrongful deduction from their salaries. In Hadramout, our colleague Fahmi Al-Yazidi was suspended from work and his workplace was shifted. His case is still in abeyance. In Taiz, Mr. Issam Al-Maqtari was treated badly and was insulted by the head of the Vocational Education Office who interrogated him. He was also threatened to be killed. Last month, teachers in Baghdad Institute were distressed to find that their salaries were deducted.”

Mr. Ahmed Al-Rabahi, Secretary General of the YTS, made it clear that “We wish we would not resort to protests and that the government would response to our demands. It is for the government's interest and everyone's interest to reach a mutual agreement regarding this matter. Our demands are legal. We have broad vision for the education sector if the government would not meet our demands It is strange that the official media stood against protestors who only demanded what is rightfully theirs. Official media should take a correct way in dealing with social issues. What drew our attention most were the words of a journalist who belongs to the ruling party as he said, “We attack you yet sympathize with you!” this shows the contradiction of the official media as they confess to our legal demands and, at the same time, doubt our demands There is yet another syndicate known as Educational Professions Syndicate. It is more governmental than the government itself. It stood against teachers' protests and demands. It is an awful tool in the hands of the government to terrorize teachers during their protests. It has no base. The president himself considered our demands legal. The Ministry of Education has been trying to raise a law suit against the credibility of the three teachers' syndicates.”

For his part, Mr. Mohammed Al-Maghrabi, member of the High Syndicate for Educational Professions, said, “What is so strange is that while we demand our legal rights instated in the laws of this country, these laws are ignored by the same government that created them. This way teachers advocate for the law more than the government and even our protests are legally granted by law. Teachers provide an example to the society that “Not to stay silent when your rights are compromised, rights are taken not given.”

Mr. Ibrahim Al-Otomi, social and information representative at the YTS, said, “Protestors were insulted and threatened. The head of an Educational District accused a female teacher of being AIDS infected as she wore a red badge. While they staged a sit-in in front of the Parliament, teachers also faced illegal measures by security forces. They tried twice to arrest me. Our colleague Mr. Nasser Al-Qawwas was arrested. What is strange is that such illegal measures were practiced in the Capital Secretariat, which is the security pillar in the country's capital, the center of civilization.”

On May 11, the Minister of Education, Dr. Abdulsalam Al-Jawfi, confessed before the Parliament that the government made decisions that included punitive measures against teachers. The decisions also included the spread of Political Security members in schools to arrest any teacher who organizes strike and/or sit-in. Al-Jawfi described these decisions as decisions to protect the country.