Teachers’ Black Sunday protest prompts government talks, strike decision pending

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has completed a timeline with the government to meet the demands of teachers, ahead of a proposed strike this Tuesday

“The government’s decision to sit for talks and compile a timeline is a sign President Yameen himself attended to the teacher’s demands,” TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem told Minivan News today.

“I am happy. We now have a way forward,” he added following association members again donning black today in what is being termed ‘Black Sunday’.

The Ministry of Education had earlier appeared unwilling to give in to teachers’ demands for higher pay and reform, while the Labor Relations Authority reportedly labelled the proposed strike as ‘not peaceful’.

“We will not increase salaries on request from certain groups. We are working on it not because teachers had demanded so. But teachers do request that it be expedited,” State Minister for Education Adam Shareef told local media.

TAM will now hold consultations with their committee and focal points in the atolls, Athif explained, before holding a meeting tomorrow night to decide whether they will continue or call off the strike.

A statement from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) noted that government was treating the potential strike as illegal.

“This commission has received information that the Labor Relations Authority has decided it cannot deem the strike planned by the Teacher’s Association of Maldives as one that is peaceful and within the parameters of laws and regulations,” said the government workers’ organisation

Black Sunday

Around ninety percent of teachers were reported to have demonstrated again today by wearing black to work after TAM members had pledged late last week to strike on September 23 should the longstanding grievances not be addressed.

A number of issues – which include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, and official recognition of TAM – have been raised repeatedly with the ministry claims the association, and are now said to be part of the agreed timeline.

Minister Shareef today acknowledged that poor communication was to blame for the current situation, but said he expected teachers to attend classes on Tuesday as discussions continued.

“O’ Level exams are to start soon. Parents and students are preparing for it. It will create huge concern if teachers decide to stop work during such a critical time,” he added.

The CSC noted today that the Constitution allowed for work stoppages as a form of protest, but that procedures outlined in the regulations on resolution of conflicts between employers and employees must be followed.

Speaking at a TAM meeting on Thursday evening, association president Athif pledged to strike indefinitely should the government not make adequate use of the talks.

“Once we strike, there is no turning back. The options are death or success. God willing, we will only stop once we have achieved success,” said Athif.

Opposition support

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has announced its support for the strikes should discussions with the government fail.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed told media today that, although the party did not want to see strikes, it would back a teacher strike should talks again prove fruitless.

“MDP very much wants for government to listen to their concerns and solve the issues through discussions, before this reaches a whole different level. MDP will stand behind all such protests,” said Waheed at a press conference today.

Meanwhile, MDP Parliamentary Group Deputy Leader and former teacher Rozaina Adam also announced her support for the proposed strikes.

“They have been asking for this raise from Maumoon’s administration, through Nasheed’s and Waheed’s administration and now into Yameen’s administration. It is with great sadness that we have to note that everyone has turned on a deaf ear to their pleas,” wrote Rozaina on her personal blog.

The Addu-Meedhoo MP expressed concern at the falling standards of the sector, noting that poor pay and working conditions were forcing good teachers away from the profession.

“I call upon the government as an MP, a parent and as a person who worked in the teaching profession, to hear out the teachers’ demands and find solutions for their problems,” said Rozaina