Unpaid wages spark strike

17th March 2000 at 00:00

A NATIONWIDE teachers' strike closed more than 100 schools across Serbia last week.

Staff escalated what had been more than six months of industrial action to demand prompt payment of wages and higher salaries.

Several thousand high-school students led by activists from the national resistance movement Otpor - which opposes the regime of Slobodan Milosevic - held a march and rally on March 7 to lend their support to the strike.

The strike is the latest blow to a crisis-ridden education system, suffering a legacy of underfunding, the effects of NATO bombing, an on-going politicisation of the syallabus and low teaching wages that are also paid late.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that schools were desperately in need of reform and had suffered pound;1.1million of damage during the bombing, which destroyed four primary schools and damaged 238 in Serbia and outside Kosovo.

In schools, all directors (headteachers) are stalwarts of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia or the Yugoslav Left Party led by his wife, Mirjana Markovic.

UNICEF education officer Svetlana Marojevic said this political control of education has adversely affected schooling.

"With the new shool law, brought out in 1991, all power was concentrated in the hands of the ministry of education," she said. "This centralisation limited ideas and politicised teachers."

Slobodanka Bozovic, 52, a biology teacher from Belgrade's Fifth High School and one of the activists behind the strike, said her classes number 35 to 46 children and, like other teachers in her school, which caters for 1,200 15 to 18-year-olds, she is sick of receiving late, low pay.

"I am supposed to receive 1,500 dinars per month (DM70 or pound;22.50, according to today's black market rate), but it is five or six years since I received a full monthly payment," she said. Most of the time she receives half of her wage and it is often late.

But the teachers are not without their critics. Many parents are deeply concerned that students have been left poorly prepared for university entrance.

They blame the lack of schooling during 87 days of NATO bombing and then eight months of short-time working by activist teachers in some schools. "My daughter is told to go home with the books and just do the best she can. But there are whole parts of the syllabus that she needs to know and has not been taught," said one Belgrade mother.

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