Print Edition - 2014-08-30  |  On Saturday

Temporary for life

  • The government has time and again created provisions for temporary teachers that would allow them to avail of retirement benefits. But because none of these provisions have been implemented, temporary teachers are retiring without a safety net
- BINOD GHIMIRE
Temporary for life

Aug 29, 2014-

He was hired as a temporary teacher. He quit his job as one. In 1968, when he was in his mid-twenties, Gopal Prasad Koirala, a graduate in English, started teaching at a public school in Rammechhap. When he was 60, after having taught for 35 years in various schools in different districts across the country, he was given his marching orders--without a severance package or pension.

The government provides pensions and the money accumulated through its provident fund for permanent teachers after they have completed 20 years of service, but for Koirala there are no such packages. This despite the fact that he has devoted the greater part of his life teaching thousands of students. And that’s why Koirala, who never took a break during his entire service period, has now channeled his energies into fighting for himself and others like him.

For the last 255 days, he has been making his way every day to Shantibatika, in Ratnapark. Accompanied by his friends and colleagues, he has been protesting against the government, demanding retirement benefits. He is a crucial member of the group who are undertaking a relay hunger-strike, which has been going on since last December. Every day, in the early morning, he seats himself inside a small tented house in Ratnapark, to express solidarity with whoever is on hunger strike. The group that he’s a part of is called the Temporary Teachers Struggle Committee (TTSC), and when his turn comes up to strike on the committee’s behalf, he will man the tent for 24 hours. When there is nobody to continue the relay he is always ready to fill in. Since the protest started, he has volunteered to fast more than 20 times.

Sitting hungry under a tent and protesting wasn’t how he’d envisioned spending his post-retirement days. When he received his termination letter two years ago, Koirala had applied for the retirement schemes that every ex government employee is entitled to. However, neither the District Education Office nor the Department of Education entertained his proposal. When his application kept getting rejected by all the government bodies, he decided he’d had enough and joined in the protests and strikes. “This is the reward the government gave for my 35 years of devotion,” says Koirala.

Koirala and others like him have been promised much in the past. The Ministry of Education has time and again forged agreements with temporary teachers whenever they have protested; the agreements say that the government will give them a permanent status or guarantee them facilities equivalent to the ones permanent staff get, but nothing has ever materialised. In 2007, the then Education Minister Mangal Siddhi Manandhar reached a five-point agreement with them according to which the government was supposed to hold internal competition among the teachers to accord permanent status to those who were recruited before 2006. The agreement also had a provision that would make it possible for retiring temporary teachers to be awarded a severance package. The Education Act 1971 was amended in 2007 to incorporate the provisions of the agreement.

However, the government never formulated the regulations that would be needed to clear the legal hurdles for implementing the agreement. In 2010, the teachers even had the Supreme Court on their side, and the court directed the government to develop the necessary laws that would guarantee facilities for temporary teachers that would be on par with the ones enjoyed by their permanent counterparts. But even with that mandate, the provisions still remained unimplemented.

Along with Koirala, there are close to 900 other temporary teachers fighting the cause. One of them, Buddhi Bahadur Rayamajhi, 63, from Arghakhachi, has been at it for nine months now. “Our government is deaf and it never listens to peaceful protests,” says Rayamajhi. “And no government officials or political leaders have come to express sympathy or solidarity with us.”

He says he’s stunned by the irony of it all. He says that it was the teachers and the students who were in the forefront when it came to protesting against the autocratic Panchayat regime and that they played a huge role in mobilising people when democracy needed to be restored in the country. “We fought against injustice, but when we are demanding justice for ourselves there is nobody to help us,” says Rayamajhi.

Both Koirala and Rayamajhi are determined to continue the protest unless the government implements the commitments it has made to temporary teachers. They say that they would rather die than give up the protest. “There are thousands of teachers working temporarily. We don’t want them to retire empty-handed like us,” says Rayamajhi.

According to Nirendra Kunwar, chairman of TTSC, some 23,000 temporary teachers are currently teaching in thousands of public schools across the country, while some 500 such teachers are retiring without any social-security provisions every year. He says that more than half of the teachers would willingly quit their jobs if the government were to only provide the severance package as had been proposed in earlier agreements.

Two years ago, the MoE two had announced that it would provide a retirement gratuity of between Rs 100,000 and Rs 1 million, depending on the number of years a temporary teacher had worked. That provision too remains unimplemented because the Ministry of Finance has refused to release the money. “We have been deceived many times,” says Kunwar. “This strike will continue unless the problem is solved permanently.”

Published: 30-08-2014 09:04

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