Slaving away at their jobs, school teachers at low-middle-income private schools suffer exploitation and harassment
haista (name changed), who holds a master’s degree, has taught at four private schools in the last two years. Not only was she paid a meagre salary as a science teacher, she also had to endure harassment.
“Since the death of my husband a couple of years ago due to cancer, I had to find a teaching job to support my three daughters. Over the last two years, I have taught at four schools. I couldn’t bear the sexual harassment in addition to financial exploitation at the hands of school owners and administrators”, says the 32-year-old widow from Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony.
A telephonic survey and background interviews by The News on Sunday revealed that a majority of private schools in lower and middle-income localities offer only Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 to their teachers. In some cases, teachers were being paid as little as Rs 3,000 for teaching a full school day.
The minimum wage for an unskilled worker in Pakistan has been set at Rs 32,000 per month. However, a majority of qualified teachers serving at private schools, who have university degrees, are paid far less.
Teachers at many private schools are not issued an appointment letter upon completing the probationary periods. In most cases, their salaries are paid in cash.
“Teachers working at these low/ middle-income private schools work like slaves. They are paid less than security guards and are often subject to harassment and blackmail. Financial difficulties compel these girls and married women to take up teaching as a profession,” says Amina Ali, the principal of a private school in the Malir area of Karachi.
A TNS investigation revealed that many private schools deduct at least 25 percent from the salaries of school teachers for up to four months as a “security deposit” to ensure that they don’t quit without serving a month’s notice.
Amina says she recently rescued a girl having an FSc diploma from a school where she was paid only Rs 3,000 and the school administrator was asking her to stay late after school hours to earn a raise.
Recently, Karachi police arrested a school owner in the Gulshan-i-Hadeed area who was allegedly forcing female teachers to have sexual relations with him and recording videos to blackmail them.
“This scandal from the Gulshan-i-Hadeed is just a tip of the iceberg. The problem runs much deeper. Many school teachers quit school jobs when they are asked for sexual favours; some get trapped. They are promised better salaries and working conditions,” says Ali.
Several other teachers interviewed by TNS in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad had similar complaints.
“I was told by a school owner I would be made a partner in return for sexual favours. After a year, he hired another woman as principal. When I objected to the appointment, he hurled abuse at me and told me to quit,“ says Saima (name changed), a married school teacher from Islamabad.
Rafia Javed, registrar at the Directorate of Private Institutions, Sindh, says that many female teachers are paid Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 at private schools. She says due to their financial problems, some of the female teachers are “compelled to make compromises” and accept exploitation at the hands of school owners and administrators.
The minimum wage for an unskilled worker in Pakistan has been set at Rs 32,000 per month. However, a majority of qualified teachers serving at private schools, having university degrees, are paid far less.
“The country’s financial situation has compelled many young girls and married women to seek employment. They consider school teaching as a relatively safe profession, but on some occasions, they are compelled to accept the unwanted advances by the owners and male staff at private schools,“ she adds. Instead of registering a complaint with the authorities, most of these women quit their jobs and seek employment at some other school, says the registrar.
Some girls want to pursue higher education. To meet their expenses, they teach at private schools and academies where they are exploited, both financially and sexually, says Javed.
She says there are 235,000 school teachers in Karachi. Only one teacher has approached her directorate in a year to lodge a complaint against the administration of a private school. The complaint was found to have lacked merit as the complainant was suffering from mental health issues.
“In our society, no woman feels comfortable making complaints about sexual harassment at an educational institution or workplace as that can lead to restrictions on them from their parents, husbands or in-laws. This encourages the perpetrators of sexual exploitation who continue preying on girls and women at their businesses,“ she adds.
Asked what the minimum wage for school teachers should be, Javed said according to 2005 rules for private schools, a teacher should get a salary equal to the fees of four students studying at the school. “We are trying to amend the rules so that teachers can get reasonable salaries”, she says.
In response to a query, Javed says that the minimum wage law only applies to unskilled labourers. The teachers don’t fall into that category. Israr Ayubi, an employment expert and former public relations officer at the EOBI in Sindh, says however, that minimum wage law applies to private school teachers as well as they are full-time workers, who work 6-8 hours. They are also compelled to work at home (homework and assessments).
“As workers, fundamental rights of private schools teachers include the issuance of an appointment letter, terms of employment, clear mention of working hours and minimum wage as per provincial or federal law,” Ayubi says. He says they are also entitled to overtime for additional work, weekly holidays and leaves including causal, sick and maternity leaves.
“The teachers are also entitled to group insurance, registration with Employee Social Security Institution (ESSI) and registration with Employees Old Benefit Institution (EOBI) for old-age pension or invalidity pension or survivors’ pension,“ Ayubi adds. He says most private schools don’t even provide an appointment letter.
Riaz Sagar, a seasoned education reporter working for a daily newspaper in Karachi, says female teachers at private schools are facing the worst kind of financial and sexual exploitation. However, this issue has never been on the agenda of NGOs, even those working for women’s rights.
“Hundreds of thousands of women are being exploited daily at schools – they get only a few thousand rupees for long working hours. They are hired and fired verbally and most importantly, they are subjected to sexual violence and harassment. Unfortunately, not even the victims are prepared to report these issues. Unlike teachers of public schools, they don’t have any association. Their voices remain unheard,“ Sagar adds.
The writer is an investigative reporter, currently covering health, science, environment and water issues for The News International