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Teachers set contract deadline

article and photos by Eric Jackson

The government and the nation's public school teachers are far apart in negotiations for the first new contract in more than a decade, and two alliances of the various educators' unions has set an August 2 deadline for a settlement. As this edition of The Panama News was published the students' mid-year break had begun, and if there is a walkout it would be extended indefinitely.

The teachers' organizations range from the moderate to the militant, and in the fragmented politics that beset that part of the labor movement not only are there multiple unions, there are two coalitions of unions bargaining with the government, the Frente de Accion Magisterial (FAM) and the Coordinadora Nacional de Unidad Magisterial (CONUMA). The teachers in Veraguas, habitually among the most militant, walked off the job on July 10 and 11 to emphasize their point, while other organizations insisted on a less confrontational style.

On July 11 thousands of teachers converged on Plaza Catedral to voice their concerns while a small delegation of their leaders met with government officials at the nearby Palacio de las Garzas. Speakers from the various teachers' organizations and labor leaders from other sectors excoriated the Torrijos administration and its economic policies. Many of them argued that if the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan to expand the Panama Canal is approved it will likely be a money loser and the result will be less funding for the public schools.

Despite their internal squabbling, once a majority of teachers decides to go on strike they all tend to pull together regardless of any government attempts to divide them. Last year the teachers solidly backed the Seguro Social strike and one of their leaders, Colon high school art teacher Andrés Rodríguez, heads both the Asociacion de Profesores and the labor/left FRENADESO coalition that organized the 2005 strikes and protests.

The unions are demanding a $190 per month across the board raise, while the government is offering $65, and at the moment the framework for both sides' proposals is a five-year contract. Entry level teachers' pay is about $260 per month, with increases according to seniority.

The government and many of the mainstream media have been playing up the poor performance of Panamanian public school students and graduates on standardized tests, blaming bad teachers who are protected by their unions for the problem. But the unions say that the politicians, almost all of whom send their kids to private schools, have underfunded and politicized public education for many years and are now seeing the results.

 

Also in this section:
Teacher contract talks get to crunch time
AutoCAD 2007: a glimpse of economic reality through a very cool new toy

HSBC buys Banistmo

Five Megaport bidders

Protecting yourself from the Kidnap Express

Business & Economy Briefs

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