Starving teachers demand wages;Briefing;International

29th January 1999 at 00:00

Russian unions protest as many face their second year without a salary, reports Nick Holdsworth

Nearly half a million staff from 10,000 schools across Russia began three days of strikes over unpaid wages on Wednesday.

In temperatures of -5C, teachers, union officials and students picketed regional governors arriving at the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, in Moscow.

Wage arrears are worst in the Siberian region of Irkutsk, where salaries have not been paid for 18 months. Karelia, a forested area bordering Finland where President Boris Yeltsin takes his summer holidays, is more than a year behind in payments.

Most of the governors arriving for a scheduled meeting ignored the demonstrators, but some stopped to express solidarity with their demands.

Konstantin Titov, governor of the central region of Samara, said teachers were paid and schools supported in his territory because education was a political priority.

"Everyone has a duty to study and I'm creating all the conditions to help them do so," said Mr Titov, who harbours presidential ambitions.

In remarks aimed at General Alexander Lebed, governor of the huge Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Mr Titov said: "In Samara we don't waste money on private airplanes. Lebed has nothing to say because he is doing nothing."

Protesters said the biggest single obstacle to clearing the wage arrears was the inefficient and corrupt way money was transferred from Moscow to the regions.

Vladimir Pavlikhin, vice-president of the central committee of the Russian Education and Science Employees' Union, said the national budget recently adopted by the Duma (parliament) should be recalled and amended to ensure full accountability for funds sent to the regions.

"It's impossible to expect local administrations to pay schools and teachers when there are so many other pressing demands from industry and agriculture.

"Local authorities are very cunning and pay teachers 100 or 200 roubles (pound;2.50 or pound;5) as a 'first payment' and then fail to pay the rest."

Teacher-trainer Olga Yerofeyeva, from Vladimir Pedagogical University near Moscow, said some teachers were fainting from hunger in class, because they spend what money they can on their children. "Money for teachers' salaries is being channelled to regions but is being lost on the way. It should be sent directly to schools and teachers."

The national action follows strikes at the start of term. In Vologda, a region north of Moscow, 5,000 staff at 180 schools stayed at home in protest at wages not being paid since September.

More than 150 schools in the eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk remained closed after the new year and on the island of Sakhalin striking teachers were joined by hospital and health workers.

Briefing International 23 TESJjanuary 29J1999 Wheel of history: St Petersburg children ride on a Gaz lorry, used to bring food to the besieged city in World War II, at a vintage car exhibition marking the 55th anniversary of the blockade's removal ReutersAlexander Demianchuk

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