AROUND 200,000 teachers took part in a national strike of public-sector workers on December 1, the biggest protest staged since the 1980 military coup.
With inflation currently running at 50 per cent, a proposed government pay award for next year of 10 per cent, has not impressed teachers. Tired of their low pay they were key participants in the strike which involved 500,000 workers.
Turkey's teachers are as likely to be seen selling vegetables in the local bazaar as working in the classroom, according to Ali Cakoglu, a secondary teacher from the Ataturk high school, central Istanbul.
"There are about 100 staff at my school, and 70 per cent have a second job," he said. "It's really the only way to make ends meet."
A new teacher gets pound;3,000 a year, says Gamzi Riza from Istanbul's Yeni Yuz Yil primary school. "This rises to pound;3,500 just bfore retirement.
Riza Dalkilic, an Istanbul spokesman for the teachers' union Egitim Sen, said the motive for the action was not just financial. "We wanted to assert our democratic rights. Since the 1980 military coup, strikes by public-sector employees have been illegal. What we did on December 1, by walking out, was breaking the law."
"My rent is pound;150 a month," said Ilter Altinisik, of Beyoglu high school. "My salary is pound;270 a month. How am I supposed to manage?" Many teachers blame their economic problems on the International Monetary Fund which is behind a government-enforced economic austerity package.
The punishment for taking strike action is dismissal, plus a possible three-year prison term. However, the coalition government, elected last year, has not so far taken any action against the strikers who are planning to further protests.