Samoan Opposition Urges Savai‘i Teachers Not To Strike

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Leader of Tautua commits to working on resolving concerns

By Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Feb. 21, 2014) – The leader of the Tautua Samoa Party, Palusalue Fa’apo II, has joined calls for teachers not to go on strike. He made the plea after teachers in Savai’i went public with their grievances over salary issues.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Palusalue asked the teachers not to go on strike.

"A strike will affect all of us and especially the students," he said.

Instead, he said, the Samoa Tautua Party will continue to push for a positive outcome to the teacher’s requests to government. This includes Opposition party support for increasing the retirement age from 55 to 60 years for teachers and for all other professions in the country. That follows threats from Savai’i teachers to strike if government will not give them a pay rise. The Public Service Commission’s retirement age for teachers is 55. Palusalue said this is his party’s advice to government.

"This is a long term issue," he said. "Government should look intensely at salaries of teachers especially since there are added hours on top of their working time."

This year the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture introduced the new school times. These times depend on the levels of classes in each school. The new school times are from 8:30am to 4pm. This is even more reason for government to consider giving teaches a new pay increase, he said.

The last time there was a pay increase was four years ago. But Palusalue and his party strongly disagree that teachers should up their performance before they can get a raise. This was the initial response from the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) in relation to strike threats from teachers. The performance-before-pay call was also made by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. Speaking with news media at his office on Wednesday afternoon,

Tuilaepa said the teachers must first consider their service before complaining about payment for the work they do. Linking teacher performance to exam results came to light following the results from last year’s Year 13 Secondary School Leavers Certificate (S.S.L.C.) exam. M.E.S.C. claims that there was a huge failure rate among students. But Palusalue said this shouldn’t be an excuse.

If the teachers are not performing that is perhaps a result of their being paid very low wages for the level of their experience and the necessity of their profession for the future of Samoa. But Tuilaepa himself also pointed out that the main issue behind the teacher strike is the issue of retirement. He claimed that the teachers should retire when they are up for it. If they wish to reapply thinking that "they still want to serve" there is still an opportunity for them to do so.

But they would have to reapply to the P.S.C. who will review their case and make that decision for them. Tuilaepa also believes that if teachers do make use of the retirement package then there will be more space available for university graduates to take up vacant positions. However, many of the teachers aged 70 are still teaching, he claims.

Instead of going on strike they should be giving prayers of thanks to the P.S.C. for giving them another four years to serve as teachers he said. In respect to improving teaching quality, Tuilaepa said this is necessary to ensure there is a change in the education system.

"What government wants is that, if there are 29 students in the class, they should all pass to the secondary level and then to university."

Tuilaepa said it is essential that graduate teachers provide quality education to will ensure students they teach will be academically successful. He said this is the way forward to providing a brighter and better future for Samoa and its people.Deputy Party Leader Aeau Peniamina said claims by government that the huge failure rate in the S.S.L.C. exams was a result of teachers underperforming were "serious allegations". He claims that in the education arena there are two factors involved. Those are – the provider (teacher) and the receiver (student).

"So no matter how good a teacher is - but if a student isn’t willing to learn" then there is the problem right there. Aeau believes that giving teachers the pay rise that they rightfully deserve might result with some difference in the performance of teachers.

"Give them a pay rise and see the difference." "It is a matter of fact teachers are not performing because of the low pay they are getting," he said. He claims that it is "not proper" that government is using an excuse like under performance as an excuse for not providing teachers with what they want – a pay increase. So why is government not giving the teachers the pay rise they deserve?

According to Palusalue it’s a lack of finance.

"They should be truthful about this - they don’t have the money to pay them."

But he strongly believes that this is where the missing millions detailed in the Audit Report should be used instead. The Opposition also believes that the problem with teacher pay increase comes with another issue "teacher shortage".

This is why they strongly recommend that government increase the retirement age from 55 to 60. At 55, teachers are still strong enough to continue their service, said Palusalue. Government should seriously look into this change because "there is a great teacher shortage". He claims the Opposition is not being biased towards teachers. If this is an area where the future of Samoa lays then, he said, "government should give special priority to the teachers".

"The government should increase [retirement] age to 60 [and then] consider the strength and health of the teacher.

"If teachers continue to retire at age 55 the problem of teacher shortage will continue," said Palusalue. Changing the law regarding the retirement age should not just be for teachers but for other professions in the country. At 60 they would be closer to the age to qualify for a pension, he said. Government should seriously consider their advise since "it is not an easy time for the teaching profession. "It is already hard to find students to take up teaching even."

Teaching is often one of the last options for many students today, he claimed. In the past, Palusalue said there have been teachers who have retired but their pay never reached $20,000 tala. Yet scholarship students who have just graduated recently from universities in Samoa and abroad are starting their jobs off at $29,000. "It’s not being biased to teachers but we are considering their pay rates and it can’t be compared to other professions."

In teaching there is no other level to move up to but to the Principal’s position and so it is "unlike any other government profession where there are different levels that people can be promoted up to eventually making it to the A.C.E.O. and C.E.O. levels," said Palusalue.

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