Teachers Association calls an indefinite strike on Tuesday

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has announced an indefinite strike starting on this Tuesday (September 23) should the government not meet its demands for reform.

Members at a meeting held in Ameeniyya School on Friday night resolved to stop teaching indefinitely if the government did not adhere to demands which include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, acceptance of TAM, as well as general improvements to the sector.

“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,” TAM president Athif Abdul Hakeem said at the meeting.

Teachers will repeat April’s ‘black protest’ by attending work dressed all in black tomorrow (September 21), and have promised to halt lessons on Tuesday if authorities fail to initiate talks by Monday.

“If the [government] does not make use of the opportunity for talks, we will strike indefinitely,” he said.

Despite repeated requests for discussions, the Education Ministry has refused to engage with the TAM, Athif said.

“We have expressed concern over issues in the education sector and called for talks in six different letters. They did not answer any letter or call for talks or give us information. This means they do not accept Maldivian teachers.”

Athif claimed education sector policymakers had deceived President Abdulla Yameen of the issues facing the education sector, and said he had hope Yameen would address the challenges.

“President Yameen does not know of the issues we teachers face. President Yameen has been deceived. Appointed leaders are showing him a different picture.”

The association has threatened direct action on a number of occasions in recent months.

“We are only asking to be treated fairly. There already is a huge gap between teachers’ pay and the pay for less qualified persons doing less work in other institutions. And now they have increased pay for some,” he told Minivan News in February.

“This is about their children’s rights, improving the education sector is a national issue. The less we spend on this sector, the more we will have to spend on prisons. But if parents don’t act, and if the government refuse to act, we will go on strike. But only as a last resort,” said Athif.

Prior to April’s demonstration, the government reportedly refuted the claims made by the Teacher’s Association, warning against any activities that might negatively affect students.

Athif has previously noted his organisation’s desire to continue teaching until all other options had been exhausted.

Other major issues raised by TAM have concerned improving the education sector and the quality of services provided. According to the association, qualified young graduates are turning away from the sector due to poor pay and working conditions.

In February the organisation also released a report titled, ‘Education sector in a deep pit’ which highlighted the state’s perceived “total disregard” towards the sector.

The report stated that 60% of schools in the Maldives are run without a principal, contrasting reduced spending on education with significant increases in areas such as the military, political posts, and independent institutions.

Individual teachers have highlighted insufficient overtime pay, overdue salaries, inadequate resources. and poor government oversight as major issues of concern,


Teachers Association condemn “overhauling of the academic calendar” for Ramadan

Following the government’s decision to close schools for grades 9 and under during Ramadan, the Teachers Association of Maldives had said the move will damage students academically.

“We cannot at all accept the way schools were shut down all of a sudden,” said President of the Teacher’s Association Athif Abdul Hakeem.

While teachers do not have a problem with the concept of closing schools for Ramadan, he said, the manner in which the decision was made had given rise to numerous problems.

“It would have been alright if it had been planned ahead and included in the academic calendar,” he said. “The excuse that the Education Ministry gave for closing schools is also unacceptable. If students in Grades 10 and above can understand lessons in three hours, so can those in grade 8. It’s illogical to claim otherwise.”

Hakeem also refuted the ministry’s claims that attendance was lower during Ramadan, adding that students will face disadvantages as a result of the sudden closure.

Earlier in June, the Education Ministry announced the decision, saying that the reduced three-hour days during the month of fasting were insufficient time in which to take lessons.

It further claimed that the decision had been made after holding discussions with those in the education sector and parents – a claim Hakeem has denied.

Parents and teachers

“It is a horrible decision,” said Mariyam Maanaa – mother of a Grade 8 student. “It is making children lethargic. How will they cope when they start working and have to go to office during Ramadan if they get used to this being a vacation?”

Civil service working hours – also the subject of some controversy prior to the start of the holy month – are between 10am and 2pm throughout Ramadan.

“This is the first time school has been closed during Ramadan and I see no reason why it had to be done,” she continued

Parent Rahima Ali, meanwhile, feels that it was a reasonable decision to not hold sessions for youngest of students.

“Perfectly understandable that school is closed for pre-schoolers. It might have been okay to close them even for Grades 1 to 5. But over that, they are not so young anymore. They must be able to concentrate on lessons even if fasting.

“Fasting is not meant to be a break from life when all you have to do is sleep through the day. The ministry’s decision is ruining our children’s discipline.”

Teacher Aishath Inas stated that while they had been asked to provide handouts to students for the holidays, teachers did not have sufficient time to effectively do so.

“It will also be extremely hard to try to cover a full month’s syllabus later. Many teachers are unhappy with the fact that we have to work through Ramadan even when students are not here, and while we will also need to come out to work on every Saturday for the rest of the year,” she said.

Extra classes

Despite the government’s decision, some schools – especially those in the islands – have begun to take sessions under the name of holding extra classes.

The Teacher’s Association was informed today that the ministry had notified those schools to stop holding such classes.

“The fact that schools are taking the initiative and holding classes shows just how concerned teachers are that we may not be able to complete the syllabus on time,” he said.

On July 3, the Ministry announced that the mid-term break would now be rescheduled to fit in into the last days of Ramadan.

Hakeem stated that this would once again pose problems as it may interfere with travel and other plans that parents may have already made in accordance with the annual academic calendar.

“The gist of the matter is we cannot accept the overhauling of the academic calendar in the middle of the year. There is no formula that will allow us to complete the syllabus on time now. As for working on Saturdays, it will be a burden on the state budget to have teachers work then as according to the law, teachers will need to be paid double the rate if they are working on an official holiday,” he continued.

Minivan News was unable to contact Ministry of Education Media Officer Maina Latheef at the time of press.


Teachers association to organise ‘black protest’

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) is organising a ‘black protest’ to draw attention to their issues ahead of a nationwide strike.

TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem said today that as a protest, teachers will be wearing black to work on 6 April 2014.

“This is the first step, we want to draw attention to these issues. For the sake of our students we will go to work until we exhaust all other ways,” Athif told.

A potential nationwide strike was announced last month citing pay discrepancies and failure to improve the education sector.

According to TAM, the association in January requested for a meeting with the minister of education for discussing their issues, but it has still not been arranged.

“The lack of communication between teachers and the ministry is a serious concern. We have written to the ministry but no actions have been take about these issues.”

Athif said that teachers are still working overtime without being paid for it.

“Independent institutions haven’t noticed this. If they don’t do those work it could be reflected in their appraisal, and they even fear termination. So they work. But without getting paid for the work,” he said.

Teachers’ overtime allowances have been reduced to just five percent of the basic salary, which on average amounts to less than MVR300 per month. But teachers have complained that school will not run without teachers doing overtime work.


Week in review: February 9 – 15

The Supreme Court’s running battle with the Elections Commission resurfaced this week, with a trial for contempt of court – including the dissolving of political parties – being sprung on commission members.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) slammed the case as an attempt at intimidation prior to the Majlis elections, with Mohamed Nasheed suggesting that an election boycott would do less harm to democracy than participating in a fraudulent poll.

As campaigning for the March elections began in earnest, the MDP criticised the current government’s development plans, while the ruling coalition questioned the opposition’s commitment to separated branches of government.

Estranged coalition member the Adhaalath Party, meanwhile, continued its plan to field candidates in direct competition with its supposed allies, much to the chagrin of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.

As the government approached 100 days in charge, ambitious plans to double the current pension pot through “innovative” investments were announced, while plans to enhance the role of Islam in society took further shape.

Plans to increase Islamic education are likely to hindered slightly, however, after the Teacher Association revealed its plan for strike action should the government not heed requests for reform. Elsewhere, court employees refusing unpaid overtime were suspended.

The development of Kulhudhuffushi airport appeared a step closer this week, with environmental regulations altered in order to allow dredging of the island’s mangrove.

Local NGO Ecocare continues to view the project as unconstitutional and economically unviable.

The cabinet’s promised discussion on the implementation of the death penalty took place this week, with ministers urging President Abdulla Yameen to establish regulation for execution procedures.

The confession of the country’s most recent recipient of the sentence, Hussein Humam was used as key evidence in the continuing Criminal Court case against his alleged accomplice in the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The recent recipient of an 18 year sentence for drug trafficking, Ibrahim Shafaz ‘Shafa’ Abdul Razzaq, this week appealed his sentence from Sri Lanka after being allowed to leave the country on medical grounds last week.

Questions regarding the Criminal Court’s own actions were also asked this week as it continued to refuse new cases sent by the the Prosecutor General’s Office, despite requests from the Supreme Court. The new PG will now start the job with a backlog of over 500 cases.

Members of the Majlis national security committee were informed by the Asia Pacific Group of the country’s obligation to enact anti-laundering legislation, while the parliamentary privileges group summoned police to give information on the investigation into the Alhan Fahmy stabbing.

Former Police Integrity Commission Chair Shahindha Ismail this week accused both the Majlis and the police watchdog of “intentional negligence” in investigating the chaos that followed the controversial transfer of presidential power two years ago.

Rising numbers of tourists in Malé led the council to issue a suggestion to all local hoteliers that visitors be made aware of appropriate dress codes in inhabited areas.

The latest figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority revealed that tourist arrivals has risen by 17 percent in 2013, though this was not sufficient to prevent Air Asia X suspending its Maldives services.

Finally, the Maldives slipped further down RSF’s Press Freedom Index, dropping to 107th in the list. Elsewhere in the media, DhiTV and it’s sister station DhiFM Plus were asked to stop broadcasting upside down pictures of Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek.


Teachers forced to work overtime without pay: Teachers Association

The Teachers Association has voiced concern over claims that teachers are being forced to work overtime by certain schools without pay.

President of the Teachers Association, Athif Abdul Hakeen, told local media that teachers are only paid 8 hours worth of overtime regardless of the length of their extra working hours.

In accordance to Article 37 (b) of the Employment Act, Athif told local media that it is mandatory for all employers to pay their staff for the time spent working beyond scheduled working hours.

“I would like to tell all heads of schools to refrain from forcing any staff to work for more than 8 hours.

“If they are to work more than the mentioned 8 hours, they shall be paid for their overtime work, as mentioned by Article 60 of the Civil Service Act,” Athif was quoted as saying in SunOnline.

The Teachers Association president claimed that some schools have threatened teachers who refuse to work overtime, stating that ‘they might have to think twice’ about how they fill out their appraisal forms.

Education Minister Asim Ahmed told local media that claims by the Teachers Association regarding a lack of overtime payment are lies that have no basis.