Already hard hit by conflict and political turmoil, a Libyan teachers’ strike over salaries and “phantom” employees has closed schools in the country for the past month.
The teachers, who earn on average 800 Dinars a month, are demanding the resignation of education minister Othman Abdel Jalil and pay rises from Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
Jalil has ordered the suspension of hundreds of striking teachers and the dismissal of tens of thousands of others who are on the ministry’s payroll but without ever turning up for work.
The strike affects most public schools and universities, including in eastern Libya controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar who in April launched an offensive against the Tripoli-based GNA.
Although Libya is divided, the United Nations-recognised GNA pays public sector salaries across the country, using oil revenues managed by the central bank, also based in the capital.
As part of moves against corruption, Jalil in October stirred an uproar among teachers by estimating that more than 150,000 phantom workers were on the education ministry payroll.
The education sector employs 500,000 people, in a country of six million, according to labour ministry figures.
Corruption has riddled Libya’s civil service since the time of MoamerKadhafi.
After the former dictator’s overthrow in 2011, successive transitional authorities have struggled to tackle the sensitive issue of eliminating fake jobs, notably in the health and education sectors.
In an initial response to strikers’ demands, the GNA decided last week to split the education ministry into a department for elementary and secondary schooling and another for higher education.
This concession failed to placate strikers, and a month after schools and universities were scheduled to reopen, most remain closed.
Jalil himself considered the GNA’s decision a personal affront and offered his resignation.
Khaled Techour, a teacher in a high school in Tajoura east of Tripoli, said the strike would continue despite the concession.
“One of our conditions has been met: the separation of general and higher education. But there remains the matter of pay rises,” he said.
“While fortunes are being spent on wars and conflict, we are ignored,” he said.
In the latest showdown, Tripoli’s southern outskirts have been a battleground since April between Haftar’s forces and pro-GNA fighters.
Dozens of schools near the front lines are closed, while others in Tripoli have been turned into accommodation for the displaced.
The GNA’s prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, has met a delegation of teachers, pledging to consider their demands “as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, students are left waiting for classes to resume. (Source: The South African)