Jordanian Teachers Continue Strike Against Low Pay

Teachers in Jordan continue their strike demanding a 50% salary increase for the third week. After being promised pay increases in 2014, the government has not completed this promise and is now claiming that there is simply not enough money. Walid Maani, the Minister of Education, told Jordanian Roya TV that the pay raise demand could result in a $157 million debt at the state treasury. As protests continue, talks between the Jordan Teacher’s Association (JTA) and the government resumed last week and while both parties showed “positive indications”, the JTA confirmed the strike will continue as long as their demands are not met. During the meeting, both sides agreed that there is a dire need to improve the living conditions of teachers and to develop the educational process, reported the Jordan News Agency, Petra. Tensions continue to rise between educators and the government after Public Security Department (PSD) officers fired tear gas at protesters and engaged in brutality against the teachers. JTA Vice President Naser Nawasrah responded to these attacks by saying, “[the teachers] will not enter the classrooms until those responsible for transgressions against teachers during Thursday’s protest are held accountable.” The PSD replied to this statement by defending their use of force as protesters were “shoving their way to reach the Fourth Circle [in Amman].” Moreover, parents of students have submitted multiple complaints regarding the strike and teachers neglecting their children’s education to partake in the protests. The first legal complaint against the strike was heard at the West Amman Court on Thursday and a second complaint was filed in the Balqa Governorate in north-western Amman.

Nasser al-Nawasrah told Al-Monitor, “We were not planning to go on strike until the end of September. We only wanted to protest Sept. 5 in front of the government headquarters to ask for a 50% salary increase to improve the livelihood of teachers. But the government added insult to injury after attacking teachers. We will not give classes until the culprits are punished and Minister of Interior Salameh Hammad steps down.”

Nawasrah went on to say, “The government is not serious about holding a dialogue. The syndicate is open to any suggestions from the government, which still has not proposed any clear solution or contacted the syndicate after the strike.”

Ehab Salameh told Al-Monitor, “With their escalation, teachers threw the government and themselves perhaps into a quandary. They are in a tug of war, and neither will surrender without common ground and dialogue to reach a suitable understanding. The government is at an impasse. If it agrees to the teachers’ demands, other sectors that believe they are marginalized might follow suit and call for demands of their own.”

Muneer Wardat, a member of JTS, said, “The government is using the press and social media to try and pressure the JTS into ending the strike. When a principal of a school in Irbid announced she would open the school again today, the students responded by saying they stand with their teachers and support the strike. The authorities are using students in an unacceptable manner,” he told The National.

Attempts to reach a consensus came from Wajih Oweis’, a former education minister, five-year-plan in which he suggests teachers receive a 10% raise every year. While this seems a viable option, the government has not commented on this agreement yet, suggesting a lack of concern on their part. The only way this issue will be resolved is through active participation in the negotiation process. The JTA shows a willingness to cooperate but are still distrustful of the government and their concern for the well-being of teachers. Educators in Jordan often have to take up more than one job in order to survive on their measly salary. I applaud the teacher’s union for their renewed set of counter-demands which include an apology from the government and an investigation into the police brutality that teachers underwent during the strike. The pardoning of these violations gives the government more power to suppress these protests and dismiss their demands. 

The main concern in the government is that is teachers are given higher pay raises, other marginalized occupations will come to the forefront and demand higher salaries as well. According to the Middle East Eye,  Ali Abbous, the head of the doctors’ union, demanded the government implement incentives of up to $114 that was previously promised to them. Ahmad al-Zoubi, the head of the engineers union, also asked the government for a 10% increase to its members. These demands are reflective of the steep decline in the economy and the oncoming deadlock between the government and public sector employees. 

Teachers in Jordan are paid, on average, $565 per month. With the increased prices and taxes afflicting the kingdom for the past 20 years, teachers struggle greatly economically. The Jordanian Teachers’ Syndicate was established in 2011 during the Arab Spring protests in response to teacher’s ongoing economic barriers. The union has about 140,000 members as of 2019. The agreement that came before the protests was that teachers would receive their raises based on their performances. If true, teachers could obtain up to a 250% raise rather than 50%. Naser Nawasrah countered this settlement, noting “If they can make money available based on merit, then the excuse that there is no money is rejected.” There is a deep mistrust between public sector employees and the government which is reflected not just in the short mediation talks but the ongoing police brutality and permissiveness of the PSD’s actions. The government now has to confront their unfulfilled economic promises and make changes to improve the lives of Jordanians or risk another round of protests like those of 2018. 

Kerent Benjumea

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