Teachers who are on a hunger strike unto death rejected the education minister's assurances yesterday, announcing to continue their agitation until they get a specific timeframe for inclusion into the government's Monthly Pay Order (MPO) system.
The minister, Nurul Islam Nahid, met the teachers on the third day of their hunger-strike in front of Jatiya Press Club at around 11:30am in an attempt to break the impasse, and urged them to return to their homes.
"We've long been fighting for you. Every year before formulation of the budget, I raise the issue [MPO]. You are the main driving force in our education sector and if you think our ministry is not paying importance to your demand, then that would be an injustice to us," he said.
The minister said they have for long been putting pressure on the finance minister and trying to convince him regarding the matter.
Nahid said that even last Monday they submitted a copy of the existing policy on MPO to the finance ministry, requesting them to come up with a solution by bringing some amendments and changes if needed.
"The secretary [of the education ministry] and I had talks with him [finance minister] till 1:30am last night. We went to his home early in the morning as he will be going abroad and told him not to leave the country without providing us with a solution.
"He then agreed that measures will be taken to bring the teachers of the educational institutions which are not enlisted under the MPO scheme. We have long been fighting to get these words from him. It's our victory," Nahid said.
He added that a policy would be formulated now and necessary steps would be taken to this end.
However, when the teachers asked about the timeframe for getting the MPO, the minister said, "You will have to be considerate. Don't just ask about the time... It is not possible to tell the date as the MPO enlistment process involves money.
"The finance ministry has agreed and the education ministry has already made some progress in the process. Now the MPO enlistment, which was stalled since 2010, will resume following the allocation of money and [according to] the rules. So please do not take more trouble and go home," Nahid said.
But the teachers rejected the assurance and kept chanting slogans demanding a specific timeframe.
Sohoran Hossain, secretary to the secondary and higher education division of the ministry, then took the floor and tried to pacify the crowd.
"The government's decision to resume MPO is a big decision. You have to give us the time needed for starting the process," he said.
But when the secretary said that all institutions will not come under the MPO scheme, the teachers then started chanting slogans again. Both the minister, secretary and other officials left the place at this point.
Binoy Bhushan Roy, one of the leaders of the agitating teachers, then gave his speech.
"We are not satisfied with the education minister's proposal and we reject it outright. We will not leave the street nor break our hunger strike until we get a specific time to get MPO," he said.
He further said the minister had been giving us the same assurance for years.
"We don't want such assurances anymore. We want MPO. We want a specific announcement from the prime minister. Without her announcement, we'll not leave the street," said Binoy.
Several hundred teachers under the banner of "Non-MPO Shikhya Pratishthan Shikhyak Karmachari Federation" started the fast unto death programme on Sunday in front of the Jatiya Press Club after staging a sit-in protest at the same place for five consecutive days before that.
About 80,000 teachers currently employed in 5,242 government-recognised schools all over Bangladesh are not under a pay scheme. They do not receive any payment with some having remained unpaid well over decades.
This is because the schools do not have the ability to pay the teachers, while the government stopped enlisting the institutions for MPO due to a "fund crisis".
After a six year suspension of the MPO by the then BNP-led alliance government, the Awami League-led government revived the facility in 2010 as per its electoral pledge and enlisted 1,624 private secondary and higher secondary schools and colleges under the scheme.
The rest of the non-MPO teachers have been staging demonstrations for MPO facilities since then.
The teachers yesterday said they had staged similar agitations in 2013 and 2015 and the government at that time gave the same assurances.
"We did not see any result," said Golam Mahmudunnabi, president of the federation.
Yesterday, many of the teachers were being given intravenous saline drip during the hunger strike. At least 14 teachers fell ill and some were admitted to hospitals, said Mahmudunnabi.
Under the MPO scheme, the government gives 100 percent basic salary to the teachers of non-government schools. The teachers also get a lump sum amount as other allowances from the MPO.
As per the rules, an education institution first comes under the MPO facility, followed by its teachers getting enlisted to the government payroll.
Currently, more than four lakh teachers and employees of 26,340 secondary schools, colleges, madrasas and technical institutes get the MPO facility.