Iraqi Kurdish teachers protest against continued pay freeze

Iraqi Kurdish teachers protest against continued pay freeze
Hundreds of teachers and other civil servants in the Iraqi Kurdistan region took part in a protest, saying they had been denied a pay rise for six years in violation of the law.
4 min read
26 November, 2022
Kurdish public sector employees say that KRG assurances of "conditional" pay rises are unsatisfactory, Dana Taib Menmy/TNA.

Teachers and other public workers on Saturday protested in the Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces of the Iraqi Kurdistan region to demand an unconditional pay rise that has been denied by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for years.

The autonomous government of Iraqi Kurdistan has frozen halted pay rises to all public sector employees since 2016, when oil prices plummeted and Kurdish fighters were battling the Islamic State group in 2016, without approval from the region's parliament.

However, the KRG has recently resumed pay rises to Kurdish security and Peshmerga forces, judges, and employees ofthe KRG presidency, parliament, and Council of Ministers.

The government recently announced it had decided to resume "conditional pay rises" for civilian employees serving in the public sector, sparking fury from workers.

KRG employee
The demonstrators also asked the Kurdish authorities to immediately free Hiwa Khalid, a student from the University of Sulaimaniyah, who had been arrested by KRG security forces after taking part in a recent demonstration. Dana Taib Menmy/TNA.

“All directors and officials in the KRG are members in the Kurdish ruling parties. We are concerned about how they can be qualified to identify who is entitled to a pay rise and how our legal and unconditional pay rise is denied. It could be on condition that you are a member in the ruling parties,” Bahroz Haji, a teacher from Sulaimaniyah told The New Arab at the protest.

He said teachers would continue to hold peaceful protests and boycott school classes.

The law of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region states that public sector employees are entitled to an unconditional pay rise every four years. The KRG does not have the legal authority to change those laws or bypass the Kurdistan parliament. 

“One of the worst things this government has done is to adopt a discrimination policy in rights and duties between civilian public workers and those who are serving in the military or are close to the three presidencies in the region,” Ismael Hama Rahim, a secondary stage teacher told TNA.

“Why this discrimination, what is the difference between me and a member of the armed forces? What we think is that this government does not care about its own civil servants.”

There are nearly twenty thousand teachers, and thousands more civil servants in Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces. Several hundred were at the protests.

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“They are afraid of the local authorities, and they are upset as well,” Hama Rahim replied when asked about teachers and civil servants who stayed away.

The protests also asked the Kurdish authorities to immediately free Hiwa Khalid, a student from the University of Sulaimaniyah, who had been arrested by the KRG security forces after he attended a protest calling for monthly stipends ranging from 45 to 100 US dollars.  

In a video clip that Kurdish social media users shared online, Khalid is seen in a physical altercation with a person in civilian clothes who was beating up one of his fellow students. After the incident, he was arrested, and there has been no word on his fate

Nearly 105 demonstrating students from the University of Sulaimaniyah, were arrested by the Kurdish security forces, most of them were released later.  

A fourth year student in the university told TNA on condition of anonymity that he and 54 other students were detained for 24 hours and freed on bail on condition they would not participate in future demonstrations.  

“There are specific laws regulating the promotion of public sector employees in Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan region, whatever measures being pursued outside the framework of those laws are illegal,” Zyad Jabar, head of the finance committee at the Kurdistan parliament, told TNA in a phone call.

“Denying pay rises to the public sector employees is illegal, and the pay rise should happen. Who is entitled for the promotion should also be regulated by the articles of the appropriate laws.”

Nearly 1.5 million people are on the KRG public sector payroll, most of them are members of the ruling parties. Critics say they are hired with little or no real expertise and often fail to come to the office.

On the other hand, tens of thousands of university graduates remain unemployed, amid rising unemployment rates and poverty.

An alliance of three ruling Kurdish parties takes part in the KRG - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Movement of Change (Gorran).