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Kyrgyz Teachers Give Government Pay Ultimatum

Protesting teachers demanding wage increases inthe village of Kyzyl-Suu in mid-December.
BISHKEK -- A teachers union in Kyrgyzstan has given the government until the end of January to comply with teachers' demand for a fourfold salary increase or face the prospect of a countrywide strike, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Thousands of secondary school teachers across the country joined protests in December to demand that their current wages of some 1,500-1,600 soms ($30-$40) be raised to 6,800 soms per month (about $150).

Asylbek Toktogulov, who heads a national trade union that represents workers in the education sector, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on January 2 that the demand by the union is "absolutely legal." He pointed out that the 2003 law on education stipulates that a teacher's salary should not be lower than the average wage, which is currently 6,800 soms.

The Finance Ministry responded to the teachers' demands by saying that the pay raise they demand would cost 10 billion soms and there are no funds in the budget to finance such an increase.

Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev told RFE/RL on December 31 that it was impossible to raise pensions and all salaries immediately and that it would be "populist" to promise such a thing.

He said that by the end of January the government will be in a position to say which salary increases are possible. But in order to raise teachers' salaries, Atambaev added, the government would have to cut funding for other state employees.

Read in Kyrgyz here