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Payday Problems: Village Teachers In Kazakhstan Struggle With Late, Unpaid Wages

There are reports of teachers in rural Kazakh schools receiving their salaries late and in several small, random portions. (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN -- Raikhan Tazhbekeeva teaches chemistry at a public school in Bulaqsai, a small village in a remote part of the Kazakh steppe known for its harsh winters and dry, hot summers.

Tazhbekeeva, a native of southern Kazakhstan, relocated to Bulaqsai in Aqmola Province in 2012 to receive financial incentives from the government that encourage young university graduates to move to villages where there are shortages of skilled professionals.

As part of the state program: With A Diploma To The Village, Tazhbekeeva received a subsidized loan to buy a house.

But despite what seemed a promising start to her life as a young village teacher, Tazhbekeeva says she soon began experiencing problems receiving her monthly wage.

Tazhbekeeva says teachers' salaries at her school are paid late and in several small, random portions: "Sometimes in four or five small installments a month" and "never the full amount."

"I have a loan to pay back. Because of nonpayment of my wage and the delays, the bank blocked my account," Tazhbekeeva told RFE/RL.

Contacted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, officials in Aqmola and the nation's capital, Nur-Sultan, acknowledged that there are delays and other issues in the payment of village teachers' salaries in some regions.

"Teachers' wages come from three different public sources -- the district, the province, and the central government budgets and they send the money at different times," says Beibit Zhusupov, the head of Aqmola's Educational Department.

Zhusupov says the department has taken measures to ensure that village teachers will receive their salaries on time starting in January.

In Astana, Deputy Education Minister Bibigul Asylova insists that the central government transfers its portion for salaries on time. Asylova says it's up to provincial and district governments to determine the regular dates on which teacher salaries are paid.

"There are no obstacles on the part of the ministry for the simultaneous transfer of teachers' salaries in full," Asylova said in statement in response to RFE/RL questions about village teachers' complaints concerning irregular and delayed wages.

Referring to the Kazakh Labor Code, Asylova implied that paying teachers in installments does not violate the law.

"According to the law, wages are set and paid at least once a month, no later than the first 10 days of the following month," she wrote.

Many teachers say they're reluctant to complain about their salary problems, fearing a backlash from authorities. (file photo)
Many teachers say they're reluctant to complain about their salary problems, fearing a backlash from authorities. (file photo)

But in the village of Bulaqsai, schoolteacher Samal Rakhmetova says the last portion of her October salary was paid on December 10. On the same day, she also received her November pay, but it wasn't her full wage.

The October and November payments were, respectively, $10 and $17 less than the amounts shown on the paycheck, Rakhmetova told RFE/RL.

Rakhmetova says she often notices such inconsistencies between the figures shown on her paychecks and the amounts transferred to her bank account.

Those "small discrepancies" make a big difference for a teacher who makes less than $500 a month.

Fear, Lack Of Trust

In the village of Bereke, in the southeastern Almaty Province, veteran teacher Mariya Zhalgasova says she had only seen these kinds of delays and irregular payments in the 1990s when the newly independent country was still navigating its way after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Like the employees of many other rural schools in her home region, Zhalgasova says that in recent years her wages were paid in numerous irregular payments.

"We got the November wages in three separate payments. We had the same problem in the summer too, when accountants told us there was a delay with payments coming from the central government budget," says Zhalgasova, who has worked as a Kazakh-language and literature teacher for more than 30 years.

In the nearby village of Shamalgan, Dinara Esalina has a full-time job as a teacher, but she can't tell the bank when her payday is so it could set a date for direct debit payments.

"I have to make my monthly mortgage payments via direct debit set for an exact date in the middle of the month," Esalina said.

But she often misses the deadline because of the unreliable wage payments. As a result, the teacher has got a "bad" record with her bank.

Despite the problems, many teachers are reluctant to complain, fearing a backlash from authorities.

"I told my colleagues several times that 'if we don't raise these problems with authorities ourselves, no one else will do it for us.' But nobody wanted to raise their voices," Rakhmetova, the Bulaqsai teacher, told RFE/RL. "It's because we have more fear than trust."

The government in Kazakhstan -- considered to be the wealthiest country in Central Asia -- has repeatedly said it has invested generously in the education sector.

Over the past decade, the Kazakh government has been encouraging teachers, doctors, veterinarians, and other professionals to move to villages because rural areas in the resource-rich country face a shortage of university-educated specialists, many of whom prefer city life.

It was the promise of the financial incentives -- such as subsidized loans to buy a house -- and a more affordable cost of living that prompted Tazhbekeeva to move to Aqmola.

But after repeatedly failing to repay her monthly house-loan installments on time, she now owes money to the bank for penalties. Tazhbekeeva says she often borrows money from her mother, who only receives a small retirement pension.

Tazhbekeeva is now planning to move back to her native Turkistan region in the south and look for a job there.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by Orken Zhoyamergen, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.