Jordan's teachers defy strike ruling despite threat to jobs

The government has declared Tuesday an official school day, and substitute teachers will be brought in to hold lessons

Jordanian teachers display their national flag during a protest capital Amman on September 5, 2019. Thousands of public school teachers marched in central Amman demanding higher wages, just four days after the start of school year, as the Jordan Teachers Association's (JTA) demanded a 50 percent salary increase according to its leader. / AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI

Jordan’s government has declared Tuesday an official school day, with substitute teachers to be brought in to hold lessons after a court ruling to halt a weeks-long strike was ignored.

Despite an Administrative Court's verdict to end the countrywide public-school teachers strike on Sunday, students who returned to school on Monday found there were no lessons as many protesters refused to adhere to the order.

Widowed mother-of-three Lama Kalouti was among the thousands of teachers who remained defiant in their call for a 50 per cent wage increase by refusing to resume teaching on Monday. A science teacher at a school in Amman, Ms Kalouti said the court ruling to end the strike was “undemocratic”.

"I'm not afraid of losing my job because I know Jordanian law stipulates that we have the right to strike," she told The National.

“Eight out of our 823 students arrived at the school today but we stood firm in our stance of not teaching until we are given the raise we were promised. One mother called me to tell me she had only sent her daughter in because the government had instructed parents to do so the night before. She told me ‘We are with you’,” she said.

Ms Kalouti said she does not earn enough from teaching to support her three children and has to accept help from her deceased husband’s family.

“I’m angry that the government is trying to turn the public against its teachers. We have the right the appeal the decision [to end the strike] so it needs time to be addressed, not immediately implemented. We are supposed to be a democratic society,” said Ms Kalouti.

International Relations professor at the University of Jordan Hassan Barari described the government’s decision to announce an official school day on Tuesday as an “autocratic approach”.

“I don’t think this is going to work. The vast majority of parents support the strike. It’s bigger than teachers, it’s societal now,” said Mr Barari, who has also taught at universities around the US, including Yale, and in Qatar.

He called the court’s decision to halt the strike a “last resort after failing to come up with a better solution”.

“If you look at development of any nation you have to look at education. In the mid-nineties Jordan was the best in the region for education but now the Gulf countries are in the lead,” he said.

“Teachers need to feel appreciated to improve the whole system. I am not for chaos, but I think this is the only way to drive home the point.”

He said the government had attempted to demonise the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate, the group of teachers behind the strike, by saying the Muslim Brotherhood is leading the strike.

“There are 120,000 members of the JTS. You can’t say the Muslim Brotherhood has all these people working for them. The government wants to say the state is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood — it’s a way to avoid confessing they have no solution,” said Mr Barari.

He believes the government needs to apologise for the accusations of manhandling by security forces during the protest on September 5, and then agree to a 50 per cent pay rise over a number of years.

Referring to the government’s latest proposal of a monthly increase of between 24 Jordanian dinars (Dh124) and 31JD, he said: “Teachers can’t go back to class and stand in front of their students when they feel they have been stripped of their dignity.”

The teachers’ strike entered its fourth week last Thursday. Speaking on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said the strike is affecting students’ constitutional right to education, adding that no promise has ever been made to grant a 50 per cent pay rise.

“Demanding better living conditions is a right but should be called for through legal tools that do not harm others’ interests,” he said.