Teachers' protest turns ugly
JAKARTA (JP): Thousands of West Java teachers descended on the capital on Tuesday holding a boisterous demonstration despite tentative agreement by the government to raise their allowances by 200 percent.
Wearing batik uniforms, some 10,000 teachers arrived in hundreds of buses during the early morning. Their primary destination was the House of Representatives building where their numbers completely blanketed the compound.
But their demeanor sabotaged any reasonable dialog with House Speaker Akbar Tandjung who agreed to meet with them. The meeting hall, packed with hundreds of teachers, resembled a delinquent schoolboy gathering, rather than a meeting of educators.
The emotionally charged teachers shouted demands for even higher increases, again threatening to strike on May 2 if they do not get relief.
Akbar was forced to depart the meeting hall as the teachers became too rowdy. Each seemed to want to make a personal statement, jumping on tables to make their voices heard over other shouting colleagues. Those in the upper seats shouted and flung empty water bottles.
As Akbar departed under police guard, the teachers began chanting: "liar, liar, liar".
In another part of the House building a group of teachers were seen embroiled in an argument with each other. The argument became so heated it nearly erupted into a mass brawl. Fortunately, cooler heads separated the emotional teachers.
Later, Akbar said he could understand the teachers' demands but rejected the threat of a strike.
"Since the government and the House have given attention to the teachers, they should not hold the strike," Akbar, who is also the chairman of the Golkar party, said.
He promised to deliver the teachers' demands to President Abdurrahman Wahid during a meeting scheduled for April 26.
Akbar explained that an increase in teachers' salaries and allowances must be considered in context with the additional burden it would place on the State Budget.
Besides the House building, some 300 teachers also visited the Ministry of Finance to convey their demands.
The Head of the Bogor Indonesian Teachers Association, Aim Halim Hermana, explained that they demanded a 500 percent increase on their allowance, 300 percent increase in basic salary, and a minimum allocation of 25 percent of the State Budget for education and integrated education programs.
Aim stressed that the increased allowance is imperative to adjust the existing rate of Rp 45,000 to Rp 125,000 monthly by May 2. While the 300 percent increase in basic salary could be achieved in phases.
The ministry's director general of budget Anshari Ritonga said he will follow up the teachers' aspirations.
Minister of National Education Yahya Muhaimin on Monday said that he had secured a tentative agreement to raise teachers' allowances by 200 percent.
Dissatisfied with the reaction they got, the teachers then marched along Jakarta's main avenues to the State Palace causing massive traffic jams amidst the evening rush hour.
Their seven teacher representatives were met by acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan who promised to explain their demands at the next cabinet meeting.
After the meeting, police provided some 15 trucks to transport the teachers back to the Senayan Sports Complex where their buses were parked.
But late at night several dozen teachers were still seen at the House complex promising to remain there until their demands were met.
Separately, after an unscheduled meeting with President Abdurrahman Wahid, Minister of National Education Yahya Muhaimin said the President could not immediately respond to the teachers' demands until the return of Minister of Finance Bambang Sudibdyo from a meeting in Paris.
Speaking to journalists at Merdeka Palace, Yahya said he had proposed an increase in teachers' allowances.
"Gus Dur said, God willing, teachers' income would be raised. If Gus Dur says 'God willing', it means we can be sure that it will be raised," Yahya said referring to Abdurrahman by his popular name.
Yahya also appealed to the teachers to return to their towns and resume teaching.
With the presence of so many educators in the capital, many schools in Bandung conducted partial activities only and students were asked to go home early.
Sumarni, an elementary school principal in Bandung, said the schools were represented by three or four teachers in Jakarta.
But almost all schools in Tangerang, West Java were closed because their 4,000 teachers joined the rally in Jakarta.
Teachers' rallies also occurred in several other cities.
In Semarang, some 300 teachers claiming to represent 3,000 teachers in Central Java, held a protest and said they would also go to Jakarta soon to stage a rally.
In Banda Aceh, about 100 students from the Student Solidarity for the People (SPUR) and the Pidie Student Action Unity for People (Kappur) organizations staged a protest demanding a 300 percent salary raise for the teachers.
"It is outrageous for teachers to be ignored and underpaid as they have such heavy tasks. None of you councillors or senior officials would be here if it were not for those who taught you through school," Teuku Irwani, a high school student from Pekan Baro in restive Pidie regency, said. (25/50/06/41/har/edt/jun/prb)