Skip to main content

KRG teachers strike over unpaid salaries, urges Iraq to pay

As Iraq's school year begins, KRG teachers walk out over months of unpaid salaries
3 min read
03 October, 2023
As Iraq began the new school year, teachers in northern Kurdistan went on strike over unpaid salaries for three months.
Students gather for the national anthem on the first day of the scholastic year in Baghdad's Sadr City suburb on 1 October 2023. [Getty]

As the Iraqi federal government commenced the new school year on Sunday, 1 October, teachers in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region launched a strike over the Kurdish authorities' failure to pay their salaries for the past three months.

Iraq's Minister of Education, Ibrahim Namis Al-Jubouri, released a statement on Sunday extending his congratulations to educational institutions, teaching staff, and students across Iraq at the start of the new academic year. He expressed his hope for a school year brimming with educational accomplishments and characterized by aspirations, ambitions, determination and resolve.

While teachers and other public sector employees face no financial issues in provinces governed by the Iraqi government, those in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been on strike since 13 September.

The KRG has not provided teachers' salaries for July, August, and September.

Bahman Salih, a professor at the University of Sulaimaniyah, told The New Arab, "We, as teachers in the higher education ministry, have not been paid for nearly four months; we are yet to receive June salaries."

He added that they have boycotted classes and will continue until they receive payment. The teachers' demands include regular monthly payments, resumption of promotions halted since 2014, and employment stability.

It is worth noting that Iraqi Kurdistan began exporting oil independently to Turkey without the federal government's consent in Baghdad in 2014. Private-sector schools and universities in the Kurdistan region have already commenced their academic year.

Non-permanent teachers in the region, numbering more than 35,000, receive nearly 400,000 Iraqi dinars per month (about US$250) to teach in rural areas and districts. Kizhan Azad, a school teacher, told TNA, "We, as non-permanent teachers, ask the KRG Ministry of Education to employ us as permanent teachers; otherwise, we will continue to boycott classes."

These non-permanent teachers make up almost 26 per cent of all teachers in the region, Karzan Physic, a representative of those teachers, said to TNA. He stressed that they would prolong their boycott of the classes until their demands were met. 

On the other hand, KRG healthcare employees have initiated a boycott of public hospitals, primarily in Sulaimaniyah province. Tragically, this boycott has resulted in the loss of several lives.

In response to this crisis, several Kurdish activists and former Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament have launched an online petition. Their goal is to encourage KRG public sector employees to sign the petition, advocating for direct payment from the Iraqi federal government and bypassing any involvement by KRG authorities.

Live Story

Several Arab MPs and all the Kurdish blocs in the Iraqi parliament, except for the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP),  have expressed their support for this petition and have pledged to introduce a bill in the Iraqi parliament. The bill aims to ensure that Baghdad directly pays all KRG employees. However, thus far, the KRG authorities have rejected these efforts, citing concerns about potentially jeopardizing the constitutional status of the Kurdistan region as a federal entity within Iraq.

Ankara had halted handling 450,000 barrels per day of exports from Iraq's north on 25 March after an international tribunal ruled in a nine-year-old dispute that Baghdad should oversee all Iraqi oil exports.

The KRG has stated that it needs 940 billion Iraqi dinars (US$602 million) to pay over 1,200,000 civil servants monthly salaries. Earlier this month, the Iraqi government sent 800 billion Iraqi dinars (close to US$610 lion) as loans to the KRG to pay its civil servants' salaries—however, the KRG has yet to pay July salaries to several ministries.