At least 10 teachers were arrested for taking part in nationwide protests on January 13, including Pirooz Nami, the secretary of the Khuzestan Teachers' Union.
IranWire sources reported that the teachers had been arrested — many of them by plainclothes security agents — in Tehran, Shiraz and Ahvaz.
This follows more than 100 teachers being summoned by security forces after four protests over the last two months, mobilized by the Coordination Council of Educators Associations.
Teachers’ demands included:
— immediate release of their jailed colleagues
— fair pensions and fair pay in line with pay for university teachers
— establishment of a transparent system to implement wage increases commensurate with experience, referred to as the “ranking system”
— job security and the scrapping of temporary contracts
— free education as stipulated in Article 30 of the Constitution
— bonuses for teachers, immediately applicable to those who retired in 2021
— implementation of of Article 64 of the Civil Service Management Law protecting teachers’ rights
IranWire spoke with Abolfazl Rahimishad, a member of the Tehran Teachers' Union, to discuss educators’ demands and the recent events.
IranWire: Why are teachers protesting? Have these rallies helped raise awareness of their plight?
Abolfazl Rahimishad: Going out on the streets was definitely not our first choice. But it is good for people to know that teachers finally took to the streets after negotiating and demanding for many years, appealing to the government and parliamentarians in writing and through informal and friendly meetings. Let me be clear: none of those conversations were helpful.
People are entitled to exercise their right to protest. Protest has at least two impacts. First, to inform and attract public opinion. Some say going to the media can be more effective, but since our national media is not popular or trusted, going out on the streets is more effective than anything else. This is our form of “media” — guilds, associations, groups and normal citizens must use the streets as their way of getting their message out since they don’t have media to represent them.
Secondly, it strengthens civil society, which is very weak in Iran. Police and security forces on the streets must guarantee the safety of protesting groups and ensure there is order. Both we and they must learn this.
What are your demands, from the Ministry of Education, the government and parliament?
It is very simple: follow the rules and regulations. When we teachers participate in protests, we have no demands other than for our rights to be respected and for the enforcement of a law that was enacted 20 years ago but has never been enforced. They say it would be a financial burden, but in our opinion, the system does not care about education. We are not asking for anything extra from governments or parliament. This government claims they are fulfilling promises and brag about it, but, even though they talk about justice and dignity, we don’t see any evidence of it. The government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also talked about justice, and Hassan Rouhani’s administration also claimed to uphold citizens’ rights. Unfortunately, we have not seen any of these governments meet our demands according to the law.
What about administrative staff and other staff? Are they involved?
Yousef Nouri, the Minister of Education, announced that 780,000 educators have been included in the ranking plan. If we distance ourselves from the words of the minister, we can say there are two views. When a ranking system is introduced, it means that teachers will be encouraged to work harder to increase their productivity because teachers will be divided into several levels and paid accordingly. In my opinion, if done right, this is just. But some say it should include all education staff. The rating system works differently for different jobs within education. However, this type of ranking can be done not just for government employees but for all employees, whether in the private or public sector. This makes perfect sense and ensures justice.
We have to consider one point in particular: humanity and human dignity. Whether you are a doctor or a school janitor or a taxi driver or a housekeeper, you still have basic needs. My ability to provide housing, whether bought or rented, clothing, food, healthcare, security, and education are things that all members of society should enjoy.
If the ranking system is implemented, all salaries under 9 million or 10 million tomans — below the poverty line — must benefit from it. It does not matter what your position is. Anyone can be ranked, including people working in offices. Each sector would have its own set of rules.
Given that the bill has been approved in parliament and has been submitted to the Guardian Council, does this mean the government has heeded this demand?
No. The government submitted the bill to the parliament with a figure of 12.5 trillion tomans for this year and 25 trillion tomans for next year. This is very different from what it was supposed to be.
When the bill was implemented last year, after 10 years of uncertainty, it was decided that 60 trillion tomans of the budget would be allocated for its implementation this year. Then they said the amount was not necesssary and that the system could be implemented with just 50 trillion tomans. They said they didn’t have the budget for a year, but that they could do it for six months. So the figure was adjusted to 25 trillion tomans. Then it went to the Plan and Budget Organization. Finally, in the last days of the Rouhani government, it was sent to parliament. They came back and said it was impossible to pay this amount, and halved it again.
Unfortunately, our colleagues and friends who had been involved in the talks and the bargaining withdrew. So eventually the figure was reduced to 12.5 trillion tomans. But for the year 2021-2022, it is unlikely they will say they have the funds.
If it’s 12.5 trillion tomans for three months, it will be 50 trillion tomans for a year. Based on the 20 percent annual increase in salaries, for 2022-2023 it should have been 60 trillion tomans, but surprisingly, for the next year, they also say it will be 25 trillion tomans. Why? This is the definition of cheating and playing with numbers. So it’s no surprise teachers are dissatisfied.
What impact have the numerous detentions, prison sentences, and summons that followed nationwide rallies had on teachers' unions and their pursuits?
It’s well known that our colleagues are in prison due to their union activities. If you followed the teachers' rallies, they chanted slogans in support of imprisoned teachers because they have been jailed while defending the rights of all teachers. They came out on the streets for us, so it only makes sense for us to demand their release. They are still paying for their protest.
Rest assured, this will make teachers stronger.
It is completely wrong to think of these jailed people as agitators who provoked people. Even while Esmail Abdi has been in prison, teachers went out onto the streets. When Rasool Bodaghi was arrested, teachers responded with anger and protested. Whenever union activists have been suppressed in various cities, colleagues have pursued their demands more vigorously. The notion that restricting people or summoning them for interrogation or imprisonment will prevent teachers from demanding their rights is completely wrong.
What role have retired teachers taken on?
There is a clause in the law that the salary of retired education personnel should not be less than 90 percent of employees’ salaries. So that means it can even be more. But this has not been observed. The bill’s neglect of retirees will further undermine their rights. If retired teachers do not insist, their rights will be left out of the ranking system. In a very short time, this will be obvious and will get worse.
What are your expectations and predictions? What are the next steps for teachers’ unions?
Waiting involves a certain degree of expectation, but predictions must be realistic. My prediction is that if their demands are not met, teachers will learn to achieve them through collective union movements. We are learning to live more civilly and follow civic education. Trade unions empower teachers, and teachers are turning to union activities. And their demands enable other sections of society, such as builders and other kinds of workers, to move towards this kind of organizing.
Organizations like these help keep rapidly-changing, emotional movements in society focused and under control. Ultimately they will help achieve the freedom and justice that has been promised — whether during the 1979 revolution or more recently by governments — to be realized in practice.
Contrary to the perception of our governments, trade unions and social activism is extremely valuable. They offer learning. If people learn about and develop unions and associations, this will have a very positive effect on the whole of society.