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Jordanian teachers secure pay raise, end strike

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman raises a Jordanian national flag as she stands amid public school teachers demonstrating and demanding pay raises, at the Professional Associations Complex in Jordan's capital, Amman, on October 3, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Jordanian teachers ended a month-long strike on Sunday after reaching an agreement with the government for a rise in wages.

The strike, which began on September 8 just a week into the school year, paralyzed some 4,000 public schools in the kingdom, where more than 1.4 million students are enrolled.

The teachers had demanded a 50-percent hike in their salaries, "the lowest among state employees," according to the union.

The pay deal will see salaries rise by 35% to 60% from next year.

The government had previously refused to meet the union's demands, proposing in late September it grant the teachers a raise of 24 to 31 dinars ($34-$44) instead.

Monthly salaries for public school teachers in Jordan range between $500 and $1,000.

Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz claimed the increase was all the government could afford "given the current economic circumstances."

The government fears new pay demands by other public sector employees, including doctors, and pension increases for retired soldiers would wreck efforts to restore fiscal prudence needed for a sustained economic recovery.

Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mubarak Abu Yamin, who led the government delegation in negotiations, told a press conference that the agreement was reached "thanks to the directives of King Abdullah II" and the "government's determination that teachers should be able to hold their heads high."

Dozens of activists from the powerful teachers union, whose members succeeded in forcing the government to agree to substantial pay hikes after a four-week standoff, celebrated in front of their headquarters in Amman.

"The teachers got their demands," said Nasser al-Nawasrah, the deputy head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate.

He called on his organization’s 100,000 members to immediately resume teaching pupils in the state schools that had been affected by the strike.

Tens of thousands of pupils headed to state school across the country on Sunday for the first time since September 5, when security forces used tear gas to disperse thousands of teachers who had congregated to press for the wage demand near government headquarters.

Jordanian teachers clash with security forces during a protest in the capital, Amman, on September 5, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Many parents had kept their children at home out of solidarity with the striking teachers.

In many of the country's rural areas and smaller cities, traditional heartlands of support for the monarchy, the strike also became a protest against successive governments' failure to deliver on promises of economic growth.

Cash-strapped Jordan is highly dependent on foreign aid and has struggled to curb its debt since securing a major loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2016.

Unemployment in the resource-poor kingdom remains at 19 percent, and the poverty rate hovers at more than 15 percent, according to official figures.

Growing disenchantment among ordinary Jordanians over tough IMF austerity measures and high taxes spilled into large street protests in the summer of 2018.

Economists and experts said the teachers' strike exposed popular anger with deep disparities within a bloated public sector that has in the last two decades expanded rapidly as successive governments sought to appease Jordanians with state jobs to maintain stability.

The IMF and Western donors said salaries and pensions ate up much of the government's $13-billion budget in a country with some of the world's highest government spending relative to its economy.

(Source: Agencies)

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