Palestinian Teachers Rally in Bid to Get Wage Deal Honored

The teachers and other interest groups want more money for social welfare, less for the security forces.

Palestinian schoolchildren demonstrating in Ramallah, 2011.
AFP

Thousands of teachers in Palestinian government schools have protested in Ramallah demanding that a 2013 wage agreement be honored.

The demonstration took place Tuesday while the Palestinian cabinet was holding its weekly meeting nearby.

The teachers’ demands are part of a debate that the Palestinian Authority tries to silence: The security forces take up about 30 percent of the budget, sapping outlays for social welfare.

On Tuesday, the PA strove to limit the number of teachers protesting; from early morning, PA security forces put up roadblocks at the exits of Palestinian cities and around Ramallah.

According to the teachers, security personnel asked passengers in cars and on public transportation what they did for a living. Teachers were not allowed to continue on to Ramallah.

Security personnel reportedly threatened drivers that their licenses would be confiscated. Forces were deployed around Palestinian government buildings.

According to protest organizers, they heard Monday evening that security officials had told the owners of transportation companies not to drive teachers to the rally. Some teachers therefore slept Monday night in Ramallah.

Teachers in Palestinian government schools have been holding labor actions since February 10. Efforts have included letting school out earlier each day and holding protest vigils in front of Education Ministry branches in cities – gradual steps before a possible full strike.

The 2013 agreement – to raise teachers’ basic salary (about 1,700 shekels [$433] a month for a beginning teacher), peg it to the cost-of-living index and improve retirement conditions – has not yet been implemented.

Last week PA security forces arrested about 20 teachers and two principals a few hours after the teachers held their first major demonstration in Ramallah. About 20,000 people are thought to have attended the rally.

The detainees were released after a day or two, and PA representatives said Hamas was behind the protests. But teachers with and without political affiliations denied this and noted that teachers in government schools also held strikes when Hamas was in power in 2007.

Last Thursday it was reported that the teachers’ union had reached a wage deal with the government, so school would open normally Sunday. But teachers’ labor committees in various districts said they had rejected the agreement because it was not retroactive and did not meet all their demands.

The teachers union is affiliated with the PLO and the Fatah movement and is not an elected body. On Monday the union leaders announced their resignation, and according to media reports made the announcement to the PLO and Fatah.

But at the protest Tuesday, teachers told Haaretz they did not believe that the resignation was real. One demand is to hold an election for an independent teachers' union.

Unlike the usual practice at Palestinian demonstrations, no flags were flown at Tuesday’s protest, whether Palestinian or those of the factions. Some teachers held small signs bearing the slogan “respect for the teacher.”

Participants said they had bypassed roadblocks using methods learned at Israeli military roadblocks. But it seems many thousands could not reach Ramallah for the rally.

No government official came out during or after the cabinet meeting to speak to the protesters. In a statement after the meeting, following the expected remarks on teachers’ importance, the employees were called to return “to the sacred mission in the service of our children.”

Meanwhile, a strike is expected Thursday in Gaza of public sector employees appointed by Hamas over the last nine years. The strike will also include schools.