Jordan's teachers call off strike following 'historic' deal

The government has granted pay rises of between 35 per cent and 75 per cent

Students attend a class at one of the public schools during the first day after the end of teachers' one-month strike in Amman, Jordan, October 6, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

A celebratory buzz filled Jordan's schools on Sunday morning as thousands of pupils returned to classes after a deal struck on Saturday evening brought a month-long public-school teachers' strike to an end.

Parents carried out the school run once again, school buses were back in action and young friends chatted happily as they made their way on foot.

Meanwhile, preparations were under way in classrooms where lessons had been suspended since teachers first took to the streets on September 5 to protest against low wages.

The deal reached by the government and the Jordanian Teachers' Syndicate, after negotiations which lasted late into Saturday night, granted pay rises of between 35 per cent and 75 per cent, depending on rank.

Five years ago teachers say they were promised a flat 50 per cent increment that had failed to come about.

The agreement brought an end to the country's longest public sector strike and JTS vice president Naser Nawasrah labelled the deal "historic" in the early hours of Sunday morning.

He said the pay rises would come into effect from January 1, 2020, with first, second, third and fourth-rank teachers receiving 35, 40, 50 and 65 per cent increases, respectively.

Mr Nawasrah said that a new rank of 'lead teacher' had also been created through the agreement and this rank would be given a 75 per cent raise.

Science laboratory technician Muntaha Rababah, 40, from Irbid – 90 kilometres north of Amman – described the outcome as a victory for the whole of Jordan.

“We are so happy the strike has ended and we received what we demanded. Today, schools are full of energy, and dignity has been restored for both students and teachers,” she said.

Ms Rababah said pupils and teachers shared gifts of chocolate and flowers.

In south-western city of Karak, physics teacher Abdullah Alqaraleh, 31, said returning to school brought him great joy.

“This will be a breakthrough for a new partnership between the government and professional unions and there is a consensus among teachers to accept these terms.”

Meanwhile in Amman, Nadal Shilbaya, 42, who has been teaching mathematics for 20 years, said he was looking forward to resuming lessons, but pointed out the raises did not meet expectations entirely.

"Normally, if our core salary is increased, so are our additional payments – which are dependent on experience. But this raise is being treated as a separate payment, so our additional payments remain the same, meaning we don't get the full increases we'd hoped for," Mr Shilbaya told The National.

“Also, we should bear in mind becoming a first-rank teacher takes 10 years and you must undertake a course financed by yourself.”

Students at Shukri Shasha'a boys’ school in central Amman said they were pleased to be returning to their studies.

"I'm very happy to be back in school today so that I can study for my Tawjihi exams," said Yazam Jaradat, 17, who was among the 1.5 million pupils affected by the strike.

“But we supported our teachers because it’s their right to be paid better. These are the people who produce our country’s doctors and engineers.”

Principal  Wasel Albawayzeh thanked King Abdullah II in his address to his pupils who stood in the schoolyard.

“I’d also like to thank the parents and the community as a whole for supporting the teachers. Every teacher has their own plan to compensate for the lost lessons, don’t worry,” he said.

Following the principal's speech, teacher Aayed Abuzerr also spoke to the students.

"The first lesson of the strike is that everyone who has a right has to ask for that right and you do so without a sword or a gun," he said.

“We went on strike for four weeks and we didn’t say a single bad word. We requested our rights despite the length of time it took. We learnt from the JTS to respect the law which is why the JTS stopped the strike.”

Teachers defied a judicial ruling on Sunday to resume lessons, despite a verdict that said the strike was unlawful because it interfered with pupils' constitutional right to education.

However, when Jordan's Supreme Court upheld the ruling three days later, the JTS temporary halted the strike until Saturday, pending the outcome of negotiations with the government.

After allegations that police assaulted protesters during the Amman sit-in at the start of September – claims denied by the authorities – the JTS went on to also demand an apology from the government.

During World Teachers' Day on Friday, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz apologised to teachers for their treatment at the hands of police during the initial protests via a Facebook post.

Also on Friday, hundreds of residents in the south-western Tafilah governorate rallied in support of the country’s teachers.