Iraq: Education union fights for payment of educators’ salaries

published 18 May 2020 updated 3 March 2022

Education International firmly supports educators in Iraqi Kurdistan struggling to get salaries paid and condemns the brutal crackdown on their peaceful demonstrations by security forces.

On 16-17 May, teachers and education support personnel demonstrated in most of Kurdistan’s cities over delays in their salary payments for the last five months. “As we are approaching June, educators have only received three-monthly salaries for this year,” said Abdulwahed Muhamad, president of the Kurdistan Teachers’ Union (KTU).

Violent repression of educators’ demonstration

In the Dohuk Governorate, over 1,000 teachers and education employees participated in a peaceful demonstration to express their discontent with the delays in salary payments. This demonstration was met with a brutal reaction by security forces, and the violent crackdown resulted in the arrest of 100 teachers, with many of them sustaining injuries. Police forces also arrested newspaper and television correspondents.

“We have followed the matter closely and asked the public authorities for their release, as they did not commit any crime. They expressed their opinion and demonstrating peacefully,” Muhamad added.

As a result of KTU and local activists’ pressure, most of the arrested demonstrators have been released. However, 10 of them remain in prison for further interrogation, and the KTU leader emphasised that his union is continuing its efforts to have them released.

Gatherings are still being organised in support of the jailed demonstrators in Dohuk that call for their immediate release without any charges.

EI: Letter of protest

On 11 May, David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International (EI), sent a letter of protest to the regional Government of Kurdistan. In it, he expressed “serious concern about the non-payment of teachers’ salaries for more than two months in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”.

He said that EI had been informed by the KTU that the payment of education workers’ salaries had been delayed since all schools were closed on 26 February in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Financial difficulties

“While we welcome the closure of schools as a clear priority to protect the health and safety of all students, education staff and communities, we are also aware that quarantine measures have resulted in financial difficulties for many families, including those of teachers,” Edwards said. “In these circumstances, leaving teachers and their families without means of support is unacceptable. This is all the more so as, since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, teachers and their representative organisation, the KTU, have been working tirelessly to ensure the safety of school communities,  to provide continued education for all students including displaced communities, and to ensure that the digital gap is not keeping students from learning.”

Edwards also highlighted how the KTU continues to work with the government to develop adequate solutions.

Action needed

“A strong public-school system and supported and motivated teachers will be essential to provide a sustainable exit for the education sector from the adverse effects of this global health crisis,” he stressed. Edwards argued that “Maintaining the salaries and working conditions of teachers and education support staff is therefore crucial now more than ever.”

EI also called on the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to immediately pay the salary arrears of all education workers, to maintain a constructive dialogue with the KTU to develop adequate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, and to respect international labour standards in all circumstances.