Samoa Teachers Strike On Savai‘i Hopefully Averted

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Education ministry CEO says pay rise demands are being worked on

By Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Feb. 19, 2014) – The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C), Matafeo Tanielu Aiafi, is optimistic that the threat of a strike made by teachers in Savai’i last week, has been averted.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Matafeo says the Ministry of Education is working with the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) on a proposed pay rise, in response to the demands from the teachers.

However, it is not as straightforward as it appears.

Matafeo says that if "teachers want a pay rise, they need to do what M.E.S.C. is asking of them". And what is that? Matafeo says teachers must up skill themselves and better the quality of their teaching.

The Chief Executive says he is confident that the teachers will not strike as reported, following a meeting of the Samoa National Teachers Association in Savai’i last Saturday.

During last weekend’s meeting in Savai’i, teachers threatened to go on strike if M.E.S.C. or the government didn’t give them the pay rise they sought.

"To me they shouldn’t go on strike because all the issues they raised are being addressed," Matafeo says.

"(The) salary increase we are now working at it with P.S.C (Public Service Commission) to put through government for the next financial year."

He claims that the three per cent already given to all public servants in last December’s Supplementary Budget had already been allotted to the teachers’ salaries.

"They are going to get that in the next pay, so the next phase would be the salary increase for teachers only," he said.

"We have to do things phase by phase because we only have limited resources and the government has to look at other professions too."

Matafeo says that at present, M.E.S.C is looking at improving the quality of the system "(That) is what we are focusing on, as well as the quality of teachers because we don’t want only a portion of our children to be academically intelligent," he said.

"We are looking at the nation, the whole nation regardless of where they are from – whether from Savai’I, or from rural villages, we want them all to be well educated."

Matafeo claims that students should be educated well enough to go through the whole education system. "We are focusing on the quality of teachers now so we need to push them for upgrade," he said.

"That is to improve their quality of teaching the students, and for retired teachers to go through training just to upgrade their knowledge of the new changes."

He said he had no problem with teachers asking for a pay rise.

"That’s okay you can ask for salary increases but at the same time these things need to be done so that the children get a good education," he said.

"We don’t just increase salaries for the sake of increasing, there has to be targets". And improving on the quality of teachers is a target that M.E.S.C. believes is necessary to create excellent products of well educated young people to run this nation. Matafeo said salary levels depend on what teaching qualifications a teacher has. So what you might be getting paid as a Diploma holder is different from what another teacher with a Bachelor earns.

"I don’t have the scale at the moment you can get that from Public Service Commission," he said. Matafeo couldn’t name the year the last pay increase was made for teachers.

"I can’t recall, well this year and there is also the three per cent from government so that’s the salary increase."

Matafeo said it did not matter how much increase the teachers are asking for.

"Because whether it’s a million they ask for they will never be satisfied and that’s a fact," he said. He did say that if the pay increases for teachers – other professions such as nurses and the police should also be offered the same deal.

"The government does not look at one side they have to be fair to all professions," said Matafeo. He said if the teachers did go ahead with the strike – he would be at a loss to understand why.

"Everyone is concerned when everyone goes on strike," he said.

"But I totally believe no one is going on strike, because it’s part of change, and people will resist change.

"But we are educators we need to be strong, we need to push governments reforms to get the quality necessary so that that the children are academically intelligent."

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