August 6, 2010

Not negotiable — No work, no pay

locked schools in HondurasA frequent sight at Honduras' public schools

Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo announced on Monday that there will be no negotiation with the teachers' unions regarding his decision to deduct pay for days not worked by teachers while they are striking. Additionally, Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez has promised that the law will be enforced prohibiting blocking streets and the "taking" of public buildings, including schools.

Honduran opinion pollAugust 2, 2010 poll: Did Pepe Lobo do well to deny payment to teachers for the days that they don't work? Yes 91%; No 9%

We have heard both statements before, from these leaders and prior administrations, but unfortunately there hasn't been much action behind the words against the "untouchables". School directors have been allowed to lock the school doors to prevent entry of students and those teachers who do want to do their job. In fact, teachers were on strike and blocking roads on Thursday and Friday this week, so it appears that the promises made above are humo (smoke).

Teachers' unions for at least a decade have consistently deprived children of their constitutional right to an education (Article 123) but that has been ignored in Honduras, where children's futures have been shamelessly used as a bargaining chip by the (often corrupt) union leaders. Many public school children have not received anywhere near the required 200 days of classes in any year of this century. See my article Honduran teachers: the czars of strikes for an incredible summary of the strikes from July 2008 to June 2009.

The last several presidents have been afraid to confront the illegal actions of the teachers' unions because of the political power that they hold and the influence they have over families and children. Often parents even have been intimidated from complaining because of fear of retribution against their children. It happens.

Honduran opinion pollAugust 5, 2010 poll: Do you approve of the government contracting with unemployed teachers to replace striking teachers? Yes 93%; No 7%

In an effort at reconciliation, President Lobo named Alejandro Ventura, a former teacher union leader, as Minister of Education. Initially teachers were very happy with that, but after Ventura began enforcing the laws, the unions now want him removed. Minister Ventura is now threatening to hire new teachers to replace those who won't work, saying there are 20,000 teachers who want to work in the public schools (because by Honduran standards the pay and benefits are very good and teachers pay no income tax).

In addition to these actions, the government needs to follow through on the 2008 audit which showed that the government was overpaying 10,579 teachers to the tune of about US $65,000,000. The audit investigation results were shelved during Manuel Zelaya's administration so we can only assume that the over-payments have continued for another two years for uncounted additional millions in wasted funds. Since teachers were told by their unions that they didn't have to cooperate with the auditors, the true number is probably even higher, especially if the salaries paid to hundreds or possibly thousands of phantom teachers (who don't work anywhere) are considered.

Transform HondurasThe civic group Transformemos Honduras ("Let's Transform Honduras" in English) is not going to let this 'maestro-azo' fade away. In a full page ad last week entitled "We demand action be taken now!", TH 'graded' every organization that should have been taking action, specifically naming the person ultimately responsible in each organization. Most officials had done absolutely nothing about it in the two months since TH originally exposed the existence of the audit. TH has published the audit and has named names of the overpaid teachers in each district on their website.

Additionally, TH members have gone from school to school performing their own audit. As an example, at one school they found that while only 33 teachers work there, 55 teachers are on the payroll. The other 22 are phantoms [site in English], being paid each month, even though no one at the school knows who or where they are. The TH website includes lists of paid teachers [in Spanish] at each public school which parents can compare with the reality and report back to TH.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in supporting an organization that is working for the betterment of Honduras to join and support Transformemos Honduras (TH website in English). I've been impressed with what they are doing. TH has focused on 15 basic proposals that I can't imagine anyone of any political persuasion being against. Another organization that has been putting pressure on the government to take action is the association of parents [in English].

Honduran opinion pollAugust 3, 2010 Poll: Do you support Pepe Lobo's order to maintain schools open in spite of the threats of strike by the teachers? Yes: 94%; No 6%

UNICEF recently made the shockingly strong statement that education in Honduras is 100 years behind that of Costa Rica and Panama [in English]. If the quality of Honduran public school education was to improve tomorrow, it will still take at least a generation before we see the results.

Like the majority of Hondurans (see the polls included here), I cheer Pepe Lobo's words but I'll withhold final judgment until we see whether or not he follows through and whether or not the appropriate action is taken regarding the teacher audit. In my opinion, teachers or directors who have defrauded the government should go to jail. School directors who fraudulently put phantom teachers on the payroll and people who receive government salaries for jobs they do not do are criminals, nothing more, nothing less.
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