Teachers in Jordan plan to hold another mass strike on Sunday, days after plunging the capital into chaos as thousands from across the country took to the streets of Amman to protest against their working conditions.
Nasser Al Nawasrah, deputy head of the Jordan Teachers' Syndicate (JTS), said the strike on Sunday would take place in response to the authorities preventing demonstrators from approaching the prime minister's office on Thursday.
Groups of teachers wearing white caps and carrying placards gathered at various spots in Amman at midday on Thursday to demand a 50 per cent salary increase they say they were promised by the government five years go. The protest was organised by JTS and the white caps worn by participants displayed the words “we’re going to walk our path” alongside an image of the association’s late president Ahmad Hajaya, who died on August 30 in a road accident.
Hundreds of police and gendarmerie were deployed in response to the demonstration and main roads were closed to prevent protesters reaching the prime minister’s office – severely disrupting traffic for several hours. Although the protest was largely peaceful, videos emerged on social media showing teargas being used by the security forces to disperse demonstrators.
Among the protesters was Muneer Wardat, a teacher trainer at JTS and a trainer in media education at the Ministry of Education. He said about 35,000 people took part the protests, although there was no independent verification of the turnout.
"We had an agreement in 2014 that we would receive a further 50 per cent of our basic salaries but we've had no pay rise in the five years since then," said father of two told The National.
He said his basic monthly salary was 182 Jordanian dinars (Dh942) but he received a total of 425 dinars after additions for family support and his level of experience. A 50 per cent pay rise would increase his salary to 516 dinars. He lives in Irbid – a town 90 kilometres north of Amman, where the average monthly rent for a three-bedroom property is 314 dinars, according to the online database Numbeo.
“We’re here because we cannot afford to live on the low salary teachers in Jordan are paid when we have to pay such high living costs,” said Faisal Al Zubi, 25, who has been working as a substitute teacher since he received his degree in electrical engineering degree a year ago.
He said his job teaching industrial design to 17 and 18-year-olds paid just 214 dinars a month, and only for the eight months of the year when the school is open.
“I’m not able to get married because I don’t have enough money to invest in a house or to be able to support a family,” said Mr Al Zubi.
He was forced to take up teaching because he was unable to find a job in his chosen field, but said it was an honourable job despite the low pay.
“I didn’t want to stay at home doing nothing so I found work where I could. Through my work I am empowering young people and that’s the only way to create a change in this country,” he said.
Jordan’s unemployment rate reached 19 per cent during the first quarter of 2019, a rise of 0.6 per cent compared to same period last year, according to the Department of Statistics. The unemployment rate was even higher among university graduates: 78 per cent for women and 26 per cent for men.
The Ministry of Education has said a 50 per cent salary increase for teachers would cost nearly $160 million (Dh588m) per year. The government is already under pressure to address the kingdom’s large deficit – public debt stood at 28.3 billion dinars at the end of 2018.
An attempt to increase taxes and implement austerity measures sparked widespread protests in June last year, with critics saying the poorer classes would be affected the most. The tax reform bill was passed despite this, sparking more demonstrations at the end of the year.