Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thousands of Romanian teachers protest wage cuts


BUCHAREST, Romania — About 5,000 Romanian teachers and education employees protested Tuesday in the capital over austerity measures implemented by the government to trim the budget deficit amid a deep recession.

They demanded decent salaries, more investment in education and an end to layoffs.

"We are humiliated," said 34-year-old Elisabeta Cozma, a primary school teacher from Marghita, a small town in northwest Romania, saying she wanted "the dignity of teachers restored." Cozma said a new salary law means teachers earn less. "My salary now is 1,000 lei ($330). It used to be 1,500 lei ($495)."

Protesters called on the government to resign and then marched toward the labor and education ministries. About 1,500 people also protested outside the offices of President Traian Basescu. Before the protest, union leaders said messages addressed to the president would be "moderate" as a sign of respect of the death of his mother Monday.

It was the latest in a series of angry demonstrations since the government cut wages in the public sector by 25 percent in July to keep the budget deficit at 6.8 percent. Teachers have chosen to mark World Teachers' Day by protesting, saying they have no reason to celebrate the day because of underfunding in Romania's education system.

The country needed to borrow euro20 billion ($26 billion) in bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009. Part of the funds helped pay state wages and pensions last year, when the economy shrank by 7.1 percent. This year it is expected to contract by about 1 percent.

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