Education chief eases teachers' woes over SSL

Public school teachers threatening a nationwide sit-down strike on Nov. 29 got the same raise as other government workers under the Salary Standardization Law, yet enjoyed comparatively more benefits than their peers in public service and would even get raises to their allowances soon, Education Secretary Leonor Briones told Manila Standard.

In a telephone interview late Friday, Briones said she would have to find out the legal implications of a strike planned by the members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and added she would wait to see what their other demands are. 

Even then, public school teachers can expect a raise in their so-called “chalk allowance” from P3,500 to P5,000 by next year and a similar increase to their anniversary bonuses, the Education chief told the Standard.

Briones noted that this was on top of their unique benefits as teachers—two months’ worth of paid vacation leave during summer when school is out and two weeks’ paid vacation during the Christmas holidays. 

“No other [government] employee receives that benefit,” she said. “We also have to consider how to compensate other people in government, like the guidance counselors, engineers and nurses [also employed by the Department of Education].”

“We have to see the perspective of the national government, which has to treat its many children equally as much as possible. [The SSL increase] is for everybody,” Briones added.

In a press conference Friday, ACT laid out its plans to demonstrate the teachers’ unhappiness over the programmed P551 wage increase next year—which they said was inadequate as they were overworked and underpaid—as provided by the SSL.

The law that improved government workers’ salaries is covered under Republic Act 10717 (the General Appropriations Act of 2016) and Executive Order No. 201, series of 2016, both signed by then-President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

In May, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to raise public teachers’ salaries but admitted doubling their salaries, as lobbied for by groups like ACT, “may not be possible at this time.”

“But I can’t double it. We can’t afford. I’m not blaming anybody, but there are simply too many Filipinos. We lack resources,” Duterte said during a teachers’ conference in his hometown of Davao City last May 4.

Briones also noted that giving into the group’s demands would widen the public school teachers’ gap with their private school counterparts, who are already “crossing over” to the government institutions because the salaries there are already much better, even when compared to school systems abroad.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon. Private schools in the provinces are already closing down because they can’t catch up with the [teachers’] salaries and benefits in public schools,” the Education chief said. 

“We have to see what their other demands are, but on first glance, how many billions [of pesos] will you need to give increases to over 800,000 teachers?” Briones asked. “So we shall see what other benefits we can give them without breaking the law, and not widen their gap with other government employees.”

At a news conference in Quezon City on Friday, Joselyn Martinez, ACT-Philippines chairperson, said they would hold a series of actions in Metro Manila and other regions.

“On Nov. 19, we will go to the Senate to submit the signatures we have gathered to demand a wage increase,” she said.

“On Nov. 29, we will have a nationwide sitdown strike, the highest form of strike. Teachers will not teach. They will go outside of their schools, while some will [just] stay at the [school] gate or quadrangle to dramatize our sentiments to President Duterte that we are not happy to get an increase of P551 [in 2019],” Martinez added. 

Teachers who do strike may be charged with refusal to perform official duty, gross insubordination, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and absence without leave, according to Republic Act 4670 or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers. The penalty for striking is a suspension of six months to one year for the first offense, and dismissal from service on the second offense.

Topics: Education Secretary Leonor Briones , Salary Standardization Law , SSL , Alliance of Concerned Teachers
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