Thu, 30 Aug 2001

Regions warned of teachers' strikes

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Teachers Association (PGRI) warned regional administrations throughout the country on Wednesday of a possible spread of teacher strikes if their demands for back pay were not met.

"We know that the teachers' actions have so far hit only several regions, but the strikes may spread if teachers in a certain region know their counterparts in other regions have received their back pay, while they haven't," PGRI chairman Muhammad Surya told The Jakarta Post.

Thousands of teachers in several regions, such as Purbalingga in Central Java, East Lampung, Madiun and Ponorogo in East Java, and Muna regency in Southeast Sulawesi, have walked off the job to protest delays in back pay.

A nationwide increase in civil servants' salaries amounting to between 14 percent and 30 percent, was announced in April after provincial legislative councils approved the local administrations' budget proposals.

The government had decided to issue all back pay in July, but has so far failed to deliver on the promise.

The disbursement of back pay has, since then, become the most serious financial problem faced by all provinces and regency administrations following the enactment of the Law on regional autonomy on June 1 this year.

In Muna regency, Southeast Sulawesi, a strike launched by teachers on Monday has reportedly paralyzed the schools there. Many kindergartens, elementary, junior and senior high schools have been forced to close.

L.M. Rasyid, a member of the Muna legislative council, expressed concern over Muna Regent Ridwan's reluctance in making the teachers' back pay a priority.

"It would be better to delay some of the existing development projects and use that money to settle this issue," Rasyid told Antara.

A similar strike also hit Madiun on Wednesday, forcing students to go home early. Nearly all schools in the subdistricts of Mejayan, Nglames, Wungu, Geger and Jiwan were empty before noon.

Spokesman for the Madiun administration, Bambang Sulistya Hadi, said his office had issued an order to make payment, but there was enough for only half the amount. The rest will be paid in September, he said.

In Purbalingga, teachers ended their strike on Wednesday after Regent Triyono Budi Sasongko promised to meet the teachers' demand for back pay in late October, saying that his office would borrow the money from the bank.

He said that the decision was made after he met with council speakers in the region.

Previously, the regent had insisted that the payment would be made in December, which sparked anger among the 7,000 teachers in the regency. They went on strike for seven days.

"Since the administration has no money, we are forced to borrow money from the bank to settle the matter," Triyono told the Post, adding that some Rp 16 billion (US$1.77 million) to Rp 17 billion was needed.

A teacher from State Junior High School 128 in Jakarta (SMPN 128) said the salary increase, which was supposed to take effect in January, was only paid in August and the remaining back pay had not yet been paid. "We don't know when it will be paid," the teacher, who requested anonymity, said.

Minister of National Education Abdul Malik Fajar said he had sent letters to the finance minister, state minister of administrative reforms and the Institute of State Personnel Administration (BAKN) to help solve the problem.

"Many regions have not paid the back pay for teachers and civil servants in education offices as the local budget from the general allocation fund does not allow it," said Abdul Malik on Wednesday.

He blamed the regional administrations for not immediately asking for additional money from the Ministry of Finance.

Abdul Malik said the teachers were extremely disappointed over the delay in payment as it affirmed a lack of commitment on the part of the regional and central government to education and the well-being of teachers.

PGRI chairman Surya also expressed concern over the widespread strike, saying that he understood the teachers' actions as it was part of their struggle to improve their welfare.

"I hope that the regional administrations will prioritize the teachers' demands so everything will return to normal. I know that the action they have taken is drastic, but I also know that it is their last resort in demanding their rights," he added.

Surya said that the government had disbursed the funds to regions, but because the announcement came very late, regional administrations had used the money for other necessities.

"So it is a problem of poor communication between the central and regional administrations," he added.

He said that a new teacher at an elementary school, who holds a diploma II certificate, brings home some Rp 800,000 per month. (bby/02/45/23/)