Middle East


Teachers Protest Low Wages

Iranian workers clash with a security agent during a demonstration to highlight the failure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to improve their working conditions. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

Along with the accelerating wave of political and intellectual unrest which appears to have intensified in regard to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline approach to governance, the country's current economic breakdown has led to much more widespread, general feelings of dissatisfaction across the land.

The most vivid example of the aforementioned unrest could be seen in recent well-attended protest gatherings and demonstrations organized by Iranian teachers during March and April to agitate for higher wages.

The protests were confronted by the government, and hundreds of teachers across the country were arrested and detained.

"How am I, my wife, and my two kids supposed to live on 220,000 Tomans ($240) per month when just our apartment rent is 180,000 Tomans ($200) per month," asked one of the protesting teachers who had been arrested and spent one day in detention. "All over the world teachers are among the most respected members of society; but here we not only get paid much less than other employees of similar academic backgrounds but they (the government) also does not even tolerate our protests, and sends their agents to beat us — we who still have chalk dust on our hands from educating their kids at school."

Large protests of Iranian teachers began in capital Tehran during early March and gradually swept its way to other cities, where they similarly faced a firm crackdown by security and judiciary authorities.

The gatherings and protests have been dispersed — in some cases violently — by riot police. The clampdown ultimately reached a point that concerned human activists around the world.

"The government [of Iran] should ... cease its lawless and arbitrary campaign against teachers' associations, their members, and their peaceful activities," said Human Rights Watch in one of its latest statements concerning Iran.

Two days later the head of Iran's Teachers Union, Ali Akbar Baghani was arrested for the second time by plainclothes agents in Tehran while he was teaching. Other teachers were also arrested in the same incident, according to a report by ILNA news agency.

Baghani had once before been detained in March and released after spending about two weeks in jail.

Protesting teachers have been repeatedly stressing that the gatherings are purely non-political and are being held to protest their current low standard of living.

In a statement released by the teachers' association, the requests of the protesters are as follows:

  1. The prompt release of the teachers arrested in recent protests.

  2. The passing of a "State Service Administration" bill, which would ensure wage equity with other government employees.

  3. The impeachment or resignation of the education minister.

  4. Appointment of a union affairs consultant for the education ministry.

  5. Formation of a teachers' council to follow up on teachers' requests in different cities.

On March 14, after two weeks of continuous protest in front of the Iranian parliament in Tehran, riot police and security forces using batons violently dispersed thousands of teachers, arresting many.

Since then, all detained teacher have been released. However, according to human rights sources, the government continues to arrest, suppress and arrest teachers who are active in teachers' associations.

On April 7, security forces in the city of Hamedan arrested 45 teachers who were active in the Hamedan Teachers Association, including its entire governing board. Some of the detainees, according to the Association, still remain in detention.

Reports indicate that "some" teachers in the cities of Sanandaj, Eslamshahr and Kerman avoided attending classes on April 16 to protest the arrests of their colleagues and "unfulfilled financial promises."

"Half of the high school teachers in town have refused to go to classes," a protesting teacher in Eslamshahr told ILNA. "Why should the maximum monthly wage of a teacher with an academic background be only 375,000 Tomans ($400)? Wasn't the government supposed to equally distribute the money from the oil trade?"

During the less than two years of Ahmadinejad's presidency, what experts call a "mishandling of the economic administration" has led to a 17 percent inflation rate during the past year, resulting in an unprecedented rise in prices across the country.

The worsening of the financial condition of the majority of Iranians, especially workers, ordinary employees and the retired have triggered numerous protests against unpaid and low salaries in many cities.

According to a new study released by Iran's Parliament, the current economic policies of Ahmadinejad's government will cause the rate of inflation in the coming year to reach a high of 23.4 percent.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Niusha Boghrati.