AMMAN—A month-long strike by Jordanian teachers has come to a conclusion, with the government agreeing to raise teachers’ salaries and meet several other demands. Classes resumed October 6, with plans to make up the lost month of instruction time over the course of the year.
“This was a historic event in Jordan,” says Kifah Abu Farhan, a member of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate’s steering committee. Until now “there was no consciousness on teachers’ part of what a syndicate could do.” After succeeding in winning material concessions from the government, the syndicate will now focus on “making efforts to develop teachers and the teaching profession.”
Teachers will receive 35 percent raises, less than their original demand of 50 percent. They will also have expanded healthcare benefits, more control over the administration of their pension fund, and greater support for training.
The strike, in which the overwhelming majority of the country’s approximately 100,000 teachers participated, was a rare instance of public sector mobilization in the region and a victory for the teachers’ syndicate, which was established in 2012.
The teachers went on strike when a raise they say was promised to them in 2014 never materialized.
The authorities used a number of approaches to try to curtail the strike, explained Abu Farhan, ranging from threats to negative media campaigns to small immediate concessions.
Teachers attempting to gather in September in Amman were met with a huge security deployment, which closed most of the capital’s main streets and squares. Teachers were tear-gassed and rushed by police, and some were arrested—which only strengthened the resolve of the protesters, with the union’s leader promising that teachers would not enter the classroom “until those responsible for transgressions against teachers … were held responsible.”
Government officials argued that the strike was illegal and deprived students of their right to learn. Some families sued the teachers’ association on these grounds. At the end of September, Jordan’s administrative court issued a ruling in that case, saying that the strike had to be suspended.
But the open-ended strike enjoyed quite widespread support, despite delaying the beginning of the school year. The hashtag #مع _المعلم (#with_the_teacher) spread quickly. Many families kept their children at home in solidarity with the strike, despite a text message from the Ministry of Education urging them to send children to school.
“The government believes that teachers are just like any other government employees. But we believe that education is the basis of the country’s development.”Kifah Abu Farhan
a member of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
A Rebuke to the Government
Abu Farhan explained the general support for the strike by noting that in Jordan today “average citizens are under great economic pressure.” Salaries have not kept up with the cost of living. Instead of being frustrated with teachers, many sympathized with them. Solidarity with the strike was a rebuke to a government people are deeply dissatisfied with. The teachers themselves emphasized the wider nature of their confrontation with the government, using the slogan: “We’ll all eat together or we’ll all go hungry together.”
Teachers’ salaries are about 400 Jordanian dinars, or $560—the poverty line for a family of five in Jordan is 340 dinars ($480). The pay issue is paramount, says Abu Farhan, because a competitive salary is key to attracting qualified teachers. Right now, he says, it is often “those who cannot find other jobs [who] become teachers.”
The government claimed that the resources for the raise were not available. Jordan is certainly in difficult financial circumstances and a very large portion of its budget goes to public-sector jobs, which it has used to guarantee stability. Already in 2018, protests against taxes and other austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund forced a political crisis and the resignation of the prime minister.
But a lack of transparency around budgetary issues and frequent instances of corruption have sapped confidence in the government, says Abu Farhan: “We doubt everything the government claims. We doubt their numbers.” He said government officials never provided the syndicate’s representatives with the figures on which their calculation of the cost of the raise was based.
And even if resources are limited, he argued, education should be a national priority. “The government believes that teachers are just like any other government employees,” said Abu Farhan. “But we believe that education is the basis of the country’s development.”
Going forward, teachers hope to have more input in formulating education policies, which are currently the exclusive purview of the Ministry of Education. The syndicate would also like to see the education budget increased and for curricula to be reviewed so that they do not rely, said Abu Farhan, on the top-down imposition of views.