ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s newly appointed cabinet spokesman and media minister Dullas Alahapperuma, who proposed the salary increase for teachers when he was the education minister last year, admitted that teachers’ salaries are below the wage of non-academic staff and kottu makers.
Trade unions of school teachers and principals temporarily suspended their physical protests two weeks ago after a spike in delta variant-led COVID-19 deaths and infections.
However, the teachers and principals have still not agreed to start online teaching as part of ongoing trade union action, leaving millions of students high and dry with no education as they are also unable to go out for schools and private classes due to the pandemic.
“I can tell you for teaching service 3, the monthly salary is only 27,000 rupees ($128). But a non-academic staff in the same school will be receiving a higher salary than that,” Alahapperuma told the weekly cabinet briefing.
“As I once told the media, a kottu maker at a hotel must be getting more money than a teacher.”
Kottu is a famous Sri Lankan dish made of roti or string hoppers chopped with vegetables and a protein source of the customer’s choice. A kottu maker usually works one shift of maximum six hours and earns between 1,500 and 2,000 rupees per shift depending on demand.
The protests by the teachers’ union have led to arrests of several teachers and trade union activists, which police claimed was for breaching quarantine laws.
Alahapperuma said the government has had held discussions with 20 trade unions representing teachers and principals so far.
“We all should accept beyond any doubt that we cannot attract a talented teacher into teaching service under the current salary scale,” he said.
“There are many issues on the qualification. But teachers are the group of people who have been receiving the least salary among government servants. So they have a justifiable worry. They should have a fair solution. Do not undermine that.”
The minister said the government is looking to implement an election pledge mentioned in its pre-election policy document “Vistas of Prosperity”, but the pandemic has delayed the salary anomaly issue.
On Monday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swapped the portfolio of foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena, a leftist, with Education Minister Prof G L Pieris, a legal academic, who did not see eye-to-eye with the protesting trade unions of teachers and principals. (Colombo/Aug18/2021)