Halabja teachers mount pressure on KRG to end saving system
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Insisting on their demands, angry teachers took to the streets of Halabja again on Sunday, reiterating their call for an end to the saving system and “guarantees” from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to pay their salaries on a regular basis.
In the meantime, Sulaimani Governor Haval Abu Bakir met with representatives of the Sulaimani province protesters, saying the government would work per the new salary system which eased the unpopular pay cuts and said a decree issued by the Iraqi parliament last week would commit the Iraqi government to pay the Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Ministry of the KRG, a move which would save the KRG billions of dinars, making it help further ease the contested saving system.
“The protests and pressures have entered a new phase making the authorities get on line to decide to reduce the portion of the salary saving system, making changes to the overall system of salaries,” read a statement by a member of the Dissatisfied Halabja Teachers Council on Sunday, adding they would continue their protests until their demands are met.
“But, we are very carefully dealing with this subject as we are certain that the authorities have lost the trust of people,” the statement read. “There is no guarantee to make us consider the government’s move as positive.”
Amid mounting pressure
from protesters across the Kurdistan Region, the KRG announced on Wednesday that it has reduced salary cuts for high-earners to as low as 30 percent, down from 60 percent. The new system does not apply to those employees whose salaries were cut by 75 percent.
The move was deemed as "positive" by a segment of striking teachers and health workers, while others called for "guarantees" to turn the decision into action.
The protesting teachers criticized the Kurdistan Region parliament saying there is lack of monitoring by the legislator over the government.
The protesters of Halabja reiterated their “firmness” of the demands which mainly include the abolishment of the saving system.
They also called on the KRG and the Iraqi government to end the imbalance of salaries between the Kurdistan Region civil servants with the rest of Iraq.
“According to the Iraqi constitution, we have all the right to have our salaries equal to the central and southern Iraqi provinces,” they said. “It is impossible to have imbalance of salaries between civil servants in a federal country.”
The protesting teachers asked the KRG to pay back their savings.
Rudaw’s Arkan Ali in Sulaimani reported that despite seven universities issuing a joint statement that they would not let the education system for the 2017-2018 academic year to be sabotaged, many teachers have yet to resume work at some universities in Sulaimani.
After meeting with protester’s representatives, Sulaimani Governor Haval Abubakir said they would support the just demands of the protesters and expect the government to fulfill its promises to pay the salaries using the new salary system within 12 days.
Abu Bakir has said it is possible for all the sides to put trust in the government and precisely monitor the implementation of its plans in which it will pay the salaries per the new system.
He urged teachers and health workers to quit their strikes and resume work.
The Sulaimani governor has made it clear to the representatives that a decree issued by the Iraqi parliament, which commits the Iraqi government to pay the salaries of the KRG Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, saves the KRG 40 billion dinars, a move which would further ease the saving system.
The Iraqi parliament decreed last week, that the KRG’s martyrs and Anfal affairs ministry’s salaries would be equalled with other parts of Iraq and paid directly by Baghdad.
Rebaz Hamlan, the KRG finance minister, told reporters on Sunday that the government is ready to pay salaries according to the new system this week if ministries send their payrolls.
Teachers and health workers in Sulaimani and Halabja have repeatedly vowed to continue strikes until the KRG pays their salaries in full.
This past week saw a wave of mass protests across the Kurdistan Region, as civil servants led by teachers and health workers demanded the abolition of the government’s unpopular austerity measures causing wages in the public sector slashed.
The highly unpopular salary saving system was introduced in 2016 as part of austerity measures designed to address the crippling economic crisis.
Civil servants, who have struggled for around two years under the austerity measures, have established councils and committees in their regions to pressure the KRG to meet their demands after Baghdad sent funds to Erbil for the salaries.
Photos by Rebwar Salah