Back to school: Morsi gets black marks from Egypt's teachers

Randa Ali , Monday 10 Sep 2012

Dozens of Egyptian teachers protest in central Cairo, unimpressed by new allowances and threatening not to return to the classroom when schools resume next week

Back to school
Three protesters sit on pavement calling for – as the placard reads – 'teacher's full rights' (Photo: Randa Ali)

President Mohamed Morsi received black marks from Egypt's teachers on Monday as dozens of education sector workers protested in downtown Cairo, demanding pay rises and official contracts.

Teachers in Egypt's public schools have been among those struggling to improve their working conditions since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February 2011 and greater room for labour protests emerged.

"I've been working for thirty years and am only paid LE600 ($100) per month as my basic salary," said English teacher Flora Hafez, standing in the impassioned crowd outside the Cabinet Office in central Cairo.

On Sunday, President Morsi approved a new allowance for state-employed teachers, equivalent to 100 per cent of basic salary and paid in two batches: one in October 2012, the second in January 2013.

All pension and bonus payments are calculated with reference to basic salaries.

For Flora, Morsi's decision means her basic salary will double by January 2013 -- still not enough, she believes, for three decades of teaching experience.

She is comparatively lucky. Most teachers are paid substantially less than Flora and, for them, the new legislation means little.

The head of Egypt's official teacher's syndicate, Ahmed El-Halawany, welcomed Sunday's announcement, saying it showed the state's respect and concern for the educational sector, starting with the improvement of teachers' living standards.

This wasn't a view that found much purchase amongst protesters in downtown Cairo.

"We demand a realistic wage structure and for new graduates to be called for civil service, so they can later be appointed [given a permanent contract with insurance and other benefits]. They no longer appoint anyone," complained one protester, social studies teacher and syndicate member Osama Ibrahim.

Ibrahim told Ahram Online that teachers had met with both the Minister of Education and El-Halawany "but it only resulted in false promises."

"The syndicate's head is against us now. He is from the Muslim Brotherhood and he doesn't want to work against his party," Ibrahim said.

"Last September when [teachers] went on strike he was with us, along with other members of the Brotherhood. But now they are in power they are ignoring us," he added, referring to a nationwide teachers strike in autumn 2011, the first in Egypt for 60 years.

Along with increased financial compensation, protesters were also demanding that teachers on temporary contracts be permanently hired.

"We were promised that teachers will be officially hired following six months of work. Now six months have passed and I'm still not appointed," said Hani Ibrahim, school social worker from Sharqia governorate.

Ibrahim, a father of four, said his salary is LE100 per month with no insurance or any other employment rights.

Public education workers are paid around 37 per cent of Egypt's total wage bill for state employees.

Due to a tight education budget -- some LE64 billion, or 12 per cent of total state spending -- the Ministry of Education often hires temporary workers to fill gaps and minimise costs. 

From the total education budget, around 80 per cent is spent on salaries and compensation.

When it comes to this demand, temporary teachers may be in luck.

On Monday, the head of Egypt's Central Agency for Organisation and Administration (CAOA) told Al-Ahram newspaper that all public workers on temporary contracts will finally be permanently employed by June 2013.

That might not be soon enough, however, for teachers whose patience is fast running out.

Schools reopen for the autumn term next week and Ibrahim told Ahram Online that if their demands are still not met, many teachers may refuse to take their poorly-paid places in front of the blackboard.

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