Retired Teachers in China Protest Lack of Benefits on Day Intended to Honor Them

2015-09-11
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) meets with national model teachers and rural teachers two days before Teachers' Day, Sept. 8, 2015.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) meets with national model teachers and rural teachers two days before Teachers' Day, Sept. 8, 2015.
AFP

Hundreds of laid-off and retired teachers protested across China on the country's national Teacher's Day over a lack of redundancy and retirement benefits, a rights group reported.

"Non-civil service and cover teachers from across China staged protests and petitions," the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said in a report on its website on Thursday.

In the central province of Hubei, more than 100 teachers gathered outside government offices in Suizhou city on Wednesday to demand why they had received different treatment to civil-service teaching staff, it said.

Meanwhile, some 200 former teachers in the eastern province of Jiangsu converged on government offices in Rugao with a petition for the authorities, the group said.

The activists had timed their protests to coincide with Teacher's Day on Thursday, it added.

"I taught for more than 30 years, and I was made redundant, and the government hasn't cared whether we live or die from the day I first set foot in a classroom," a former teacher surnamed Zhang told RFA on Friday.

"I have had no health insurance from start to finish," she said.

"Yesterday, we went to the education ministry to complain, and sent a letter to [President] Xi Jinping in Beijing ... and now we face being detained and brought home at any time," Zhang said, adding: "The government is so corrupt where we live."

Document No. 32

The teachers are demanding that the government implement the promises in a 1997 central government directive known as "Document No. 32," in which local governments were ordered to put non-civil service and civil service teachers on the same footing.

"We are demanding ... that they implement Document No. 32, from 1997, but they just give irrelevant answers," Zhang said.

"Nobody in central government cares about this, and the local governments are too corrupt," she said. "We are all alone, with nobody to help us."

"The day of hurt comes round again ... and our youth has been cheated away from us," Zhang said, quoting a poem she wrote for the occasion.

Sources close to the protests said many of those who attended the petition event in Beijing were in their eighties, while others had been placed under house arrest before they could travel to the capital.

A retired teacher surnamed Sun from Hubei told RFA that he was stopped by local officials.

"We were getting ready to go ... and we had already bought the tickets to Beijing, but then the local government found out about it, and they blocked our path and put us under surveillance," Sun said.

"There are now municipal officials, police officers, as well as village and township officials in our village, watching us and stopping us from leaving," he said.

Dire straits

Sun said many retired teachers are living in great financial hardship, with no pension or health insurance.

"We are in dire straits, and it's very tough for us, as we get older and older year by year, and our health gets worse and worse," he said.

"We have sent so many letters and petitions to so many departments at every level, but we have never had a reply; they just pass the buck every time," Sun added.

Teachers' Day in China is often marked by students with gifts, cards and flowers for the teacher, while former students may revisit old educational haunts to reminisce with staff there.

But teachers in China, while generally respected and revered, aren't treated equally, and can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts.

Those employed on non-government terms or as "temporary" cover teachers frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and that often go unpaid for months.

They also lack pensions or other benefits after retirement, or when they are laid off.

Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, called on local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits, including a retirement pension.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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