Egypt teachers skip schools to demand better pay
CAIRO - Around 5,000 teachers gathered outside the cabinet headquarters in Cairo on Saturday to demand better pay, vowing to pursue a strike that has crippled several schools around the country.
"We want social justice!" the teachers chanted, as they blocked a main thoroughfare in central Cairo and creating grid lock in the centre of the capital, a photographer said.
Teachers from several governorates converged to demand the sacking of the minister of education, Ahmed Mussa. In addition to better pay pay, they are demanding permament contracts for hundreds of thousands who have no access to benefits because of their status.
Egypt's 1.3 million public school teachers' salaries are among the lowest in the country, while schools are badly maintained and lack sufficient resources.
"Three desks are missing from my classroom, and I don't even have a chair to sit on", read one banner.
"No more cosmetic changes, no more private lessons, we want fair salaries", read another.
The poor quality of schools has created a shadow education systems where teachers give private lessons for extra income, and many parents complain that their children are penalised if they refuse the private tutoring.
Other teachers are angry at the bad reputation of the profession, saying they have no authority with their students and have been stripped of their dignity.
"We will strike until our demands our met", read another banner.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who heads a caretaker government, has vowed to look into teacher's complaints and to restore dignity to the profession.
Around three percent of teachers have gone on strike, according to the ministry, with pictures of empty classrooms circulating on the internet and in newspapers.
The strike comes amid a wave of industrial actions that has crippled the country since an uprising toppled the regime of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Workers in public transport, factories and universities, air freight and other sectors have staged pickets across the country demanding better pay.
On Friday, Egypt's Red Sea Port Authority said the Ain Sokhna port at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal had been shut due to strike action.
Dubai's DP World which operates the hi-tech terminal, was forced to shut down operations after strikes that began Tuesday and have cost the company $1 million a day, state news agency MENA reported.