Monday, April 11, 2011

Scuffles break out as teachers protest for job stability, higher wages

A number of teachers who belong to the illiteracy eradication program scuffled with security guards at the Ministry of Civil Service's provincial headquarters in Jeddah after they were prevented from meeting with Suhaimi Al-Hajri, director general of the office.
The fistfight took place while four teachers of the same department were meeting with Al-Hajri, Al-Watan Arabic daily reported on Sunday. The teachers who fought with the guards were carrying placards demanding their jobs be made permanent.
Muhammad Al-Siraj, one of the teachers involved, said his colleagues were happy when they read a report that women teachers in the department would be made permanent, thinking that the decision would also cover male teachers. But it was later learned that it covered only women.
“This forced us to launch a campaign through Facebook and hold a protest in front of the ministry's office in Jeddah,” Al-Siraj said.
The teachers raised their voices, prompting the guards to force them to leave. They also prevented reporters and photographers from taking pictures of the fistfight.
An old man named Uncle Saleh, who is one of the students of the illiteracy eradication program, came to the ministry to support the teachers. He called upon Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to protect the teachers' rights.
Ali Al-Aseeri, a teacher, expressed surprise at the department’s decision not to make male teachers permanent, even though they also work for the same department as the women teachers who were made permanent.
Al-Hajri, the director general of the ministry's office, said a ministerial committee has been set up to look into the complaints. “Our office has nothing to do with this issue. It should be handled by the Ministry of Education,” he said.
Meanwhile, dozens of unemployed university graduates and teachers staged protests on Sunday demanding jobs and better wages.
Over 20 protesters gathered outside the Education Ministry office in Jeddah while around 20 collected outside the ministry in the capital Riyadh, witnesses and participants said.
“God willing, I’ll be here until Friday if I have to. We don’t care anymore after seven years of unemployment. We have no other choice,” said Omar Alharbi, a 34-year-old Arabic language teacher who took part in the Jeddah protest.
The father of six now works as a teacher in a private school making only SR1,800 a month, below the country’s unemployment handout of SR2,000.
Teachers are offered SR1,800 a month in a private school for a job that pays around SR9,000 a month in government schools, protesters said.
Some of the protesters said they had been unemployed since 2003. They estimated the number of unemployed Saudi Arabic language teachers to exceed 10,000.
Earlier this year, some 250 unemployed graduates gathered at the Education Ministry in Riyadh to demand employment and vowed to continue demonstrating until the government produces jobs.
The group later dispersed after hearing promises from ministry officials saying they will deal with their issue.

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