The strike resumed across Sulaimani after the end of the first-semester examinations in late-January. Photo: Rudaw/Sartip Othman
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Teachers resumed their protests in rainy Sulaimani on Monday, demanding salaries as efforts to end their strikes are underway.
The Department of Education in Sulaimani met with eight political parties to end the ongoing teachers' strike and all have reiterated support for the “legitimate” demands of the teachers.
“We sent an official letter to the leadership council of Sulaimani’s parties for them to be aware of the circumstances of education and the legitimate demands of the teachers,” Dilshad Omer, the director general of Sulaimani’s directorate of education told reporters on Monday following the meeting.
KDP, PUK, Komal, and Gorran were present in the meeting attended by eight of the 13 invited parties.
The education directorate asked for the parties to help resolve the salary issue and sent an official letter to the relevant authorities, outlining three demands.
They demanded the KRG pay the teachers’ salaries and for the Kurdistan parliament to hold an exceptional session on the matter.
They also asked for urgent payment of the extra funds for November and December 2017 and continued payment of these funds that are financial incentives for teachers, providing a monthly amount of 150,000 IQD ($115) to teachers in rural areas and 100,000 IQD ($76) in urban areas.
The teachers, however, are skeptical of the political parties and claim that they do not represent them.
“We will not allow the [political] parties to become the mouthpiece of teachers,” Osman Golpi, a member of the Dissatisfied Teachers Council, asserted earlier in the day, adding that only teachers can decide on their rights, not others.
The teachers council reiterated their call for Baghdad to begin paying the salaries of the education ministry “as soon as possible, especially now that the job of the auditing committees of the Ministries of Education and Health has been completed.”
Sulaimani’s teachers have staged periodic strikes, resuming after the end of the first-semester examinations in late-January. Only Grade 12 students have continued to study.
“We as the Union of Teachers never wanted to stop the educational process. The continuation of the situation hurts everyone. We hope the salaries being paid currently will be paid for the educational process to resume,” Abdulwahid Mohammed, the head of the Union of Teachers, told Rudaw.
He blamed the provincial council and governor of Sulaimani for the current situation, alongside the parties that talk about “progress.”
Progress without education cannot occur, he said, and that is why everyone needs to make every effort so that students can get back to class.
The teachers have decided not to return to work until their salaries are fully paid.
Teachers also poured into the streets of Sulaimani last week demanding salaries for teachers from the Iraqi government, with some comparing KRG promises to send their wages to those of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Public education in Sulaimani province was halted last year for nearly 100 days.
The federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government have been locked in a political stalemate over budget sharing.
The Central Bank of Iraq sent $210 million to its branch in Erbil on January 29, but the KRG says they don't know what the funds are for. Kurdistan's finance ministry has explained they have no direct relations or authority over the Erbil branch of the Iraqi central bank.
Abadi has said they will audit KRG payrolls department-by-department and then send funds accordingly. He expressed that essential services like health, education, infrastructure and some security institutions would be the first to be audited.
In 2016, the KRG introduced unpopular pay cuts as part of austerity measures responding to an ongoing financial crisis caused by a drop in oil prices and budget cuts from Iraq. The measures caused months of protests in the Kurdistan Region, especially in the provinces of Sulaimani and Halabja.
Since Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries took control of oil-rich Kirkuk and other disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad in October, the KRG has said their revenues have been halved.
MPs in Kurdish parties are urging Abadi to heed the advice of the International Monetary Fund, regarding the budget share