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In Unusual Move, Iranian Teachers Strike For Wage Parity

Teachers used the first day of the strike to explain the reasons for their actions to their students. (file photo)
(RFE/RL) -- Teachers in several cities and provinces of Iran are in the midst of a three-day strike to protest low wages.

The main demand of the teachers is implementation of a pay-parity bill passed by parliament in 2007. The bill, which would bring teachers' wages in line with other government workers, has not been instituted, despite recent promises by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Reports differ on the strength of participation in the strike, an action rarely seen in the country due to the risk of angering the authorities.

In announcing the strike, which began April 26, Iran's Teachers Union said that on the first day, teachers would attend schools and classes but would not teach. They would instead use the time to inform students about the reasons for the action.

On April 27, the second day of the strike, teachers were to show up at school but would refuse to conduct classes.

And on the third and final day of the strike -- designated "National Day of Protest by Teachers" -- the plan is for educators not to go to school at all, according to the union.

50 Percent Participation?

In a statement on its website, the Teachers Union calls on members throughout Iran to join the strike. The union says early results indicate a large number of teachers are participating.

Spokesman Ismail Abdi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that half of the teachers in some cities have joined the protest.

They treat us as if we were foreigners from another country. We are well-informed and we are aware of [the strike], but they don't let us make the slightest move.
"We received reports today from Kermanshah where more than 50 percent of schools have welcomed the action by the Teachers Union," Abdi said.

"Today our colleagues in that region did not show up in classes. We also have reports from Kurdistan, from Sanandaj, that the protest has been going very well. In Tehran Province, including in cities such as Islamshahr and Karaj, it has been [successful]," he said.

While the union is touting its organizational success, other sources have indicated low teacher participation. State-controlled media did not carry the union's statement, and many teachers were apparently unaware of the protest.

Mokhtar Asadi, one of the strike organizers, points to other obstacles, including pressure from the state. In recent years, teachers who have called for better working conditions have faced harassment and imprisonment.

"We have not been able to inform colleagues though the media, and many of those who would be willing to join the strike have not been informed," Asadi says. "There are other colleagues who are aware but because of limitations -- including pressure from security bodies -- they have not been able to go on strike."

Teachers Being Monitored

At least two teachers have reportedly been detained in recent days, and a number have received threats.

A teacher in Khuzestan told Radio Farda on the condition of anonymity that teachers are being closely watched by the government and prevented from holding protest actions.

"They don't let anyone move in Khuzestan. They treat us as if we were foreigners from another country," the teacher said. "We are well-informed and we are aware of [the strike], but they don't let us make the slightest move."

However, Shirzad Abdollahi, a well-known Tehran-based expert on education, believes a significant number of teachers did not join the strike because they believe such moves hurt students.

Abdollahi tells RFE/RL that some union members did not support the call for the strike and refused to sign the union's statement.

"On top of that, the bill is going to be implemented -- its budget has been approved and the government will implement it," Abdollahi says. "Therefore, maybe the strike is not very timely. It would have been more logical seven or eight months ago."

But Abdi from the Teachers Union says there is concern that the government is unwilling to implement the bill.

"We feel that they're delaying the issue so that the next [president] after Ahmadinejad says, 'This is not our business.' Or they want to leave the issue until after the election," Abdi says. "But a delay in this is not acceptable for teachers."

Many teachers say they are having problems making ends meet. The average teacher's salary in Iran is about $300 per month. Many of them are forced to take on additional jobs to make a living.

Iranian lawmaker Asadollah Abbasi, who is a member of the Majlis Education and Research Committee, said in 2007 that some assessments indicate a gap of more than 1 million rials (about $100) between the salaries of teachers and other public-sector employees.

Radio Farda broadcaster Ruzbeh Bolhari contributed to this report