Lao Teachers Hit by Government Budget Woes

2013-12-17
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laos-teacher-jan-2012.jpg
A mathematics class in Champassak province, Jan. 30, 2012.
Biosphoto

A recent cut in living allowances, coupled with already frequent wage delays, have left teachers in Laos struggling to make ends meet amid financial problems gripping the government, sources in the capital said.

Many teachers have not received their salaries for several months, sources said, and none have received their usual 760,000 kip (about U.S. $100) living allowance since the payment was suspended for all employees in October.

Teachers complained this week that between the unpaid salaries and allowance cut, they have no idea whether they will be paid this month, or if so, how much.

One teacher in the capital Vientiane said she and her colleagues had not been paid for nearly three months and had been warned not to complain about the problem.

“We don’t know what we will get for the month. We haven’t seen it yet,” she told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“For crying out loud, we haven’t gotten paid for almost three months, and the 760,000 kip monthly allowance has been cut too.”

“One cannot say anything about it. If you speak out, you may as well be looking for trouble.”

Budget problems

The allowance cut is part of measures introduced amid budget problems that have prompted a warning from the International Monetary Fund that Laos must tighten its policies in order to avoid a major economic crisis.

The Finance Ministry has said the budget problems stem from lower-than-targeted tax collection coupled with an enormous 140 percent increase in state allowance and salary payments last fiscal year.

The government announced the suspension of the allowance, which was introduced in the October 2012-September 2013 fiscal year, at the same time as pledging three consecutive years of salary increases.

But the amount saved by suspending the allowance for the current fiscal year is expected be significantly more than the total amount of the salary increases, according to the Vientiane Times newspaper.

When announcing the cut, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong said the living allowance was never meant to have been a permanent payment but rather a temporary measure intended to enable public servants to adjust to rising living costs, according to the paper.

Teachers told RFA this week that the cut in the allowance, which represented a significant portion of income for many, was enough to prompt some to quit their jobs, while others were still holding out for several months’ worth of back pay.

Some said that when they go to their employers’ financial offices, they are promised they will be given their back pay “tomorrow,” but the promises are never fulfilled, according to sources.  

Households in which both husband and wife are teachers have been worst affected by the wage delay and allowance cut, they said.  

Residents in the capital said teachers in the cities are more affected by the allowance cut and salary delay than those in rural areas, where teachers can rely on gardens and crops to feed their families without buying food from a store.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.