Now, Kazakh teachers are getting a lesson in bartering, with educators complaining that they are being pushed to accept vegetables instead of cash for their wages this month.
According to Saghira Nurbekova, chairwoman of the independent Teachers' Labor Union in South Kazakhstan Oblast, some school districts in the region are paying salaries in the form of potatoes, onions, and carrots.
The exchange is being conducted at a favorable rate -- for the money, teachers can get about twice the amount of goods they could buy on the open market -- but it still looks like a rotten deal.
Based on complaints the union has received, Nurbekova says some of the vegetables are most likely from last year's harvest and are not suitable for eating.
Alibek Sultanbekov, a teacher at Secondary School No. 25 in Shymkent, confirms that he and his colleagues have been asked to take potatoes as part of their monthly wage.
"Yes, I took the potatoes. They look normal, although some are rotten," Sultanbekov says. "Our school got just two tons. People took them. The potatoes are cheap. It costs 70 tenges ($0.60) per kilogram in the market, but here we get it for 35 tenges ($0.30) per kilogram. I got 34 kilograms. They have distributed them among us. I do not know who brought them. But all of us, the whole school, is taking them."
A spokesman for South Kazakhstan Oblast's Education Department, Azat Amirtaev, says he aware of the complaints but that to this point there is no evidence to indicate a barter system is in place.
"We have heard about this matter, but it has never been proven. We are now checking to see if it is true," Amirtaev says. "We were unable to find concrete names [of complainants]. Those who complained refused to talk to us. That is all."
Nurbekova says there have, indeed, been multiple complaints from teachers in South Kazakhstan Oblast but says it is very difficult to help them because many are scared to go on the record.
"Our teachers accept anything their bosses give them without any objections. They are unable to defend their rights," Nurbekova says. "They are warned that if they do not take whatever is given to them [as payment] they will either have less than 18 hours [per week] of classes next year or even have to quit their jobs."
Nurbekova says the union will send letters to the central government and the president's office asking for assistance in solving the situation.
-- Maqpal Muqanqyzy and Merhat Sharipzhanov