The teachers fear a change in service structures to their disadvantage
January 3rd marks the start of winter holidays for schools in Islamabad. However, classes may not resume when the holidays are over on January 9th.
The Federal Government Education Joint Action Committee has announced a total boycott of classes when schools resume teaching to protest against Islamabad Local Government Ordinance 2021.
The committee made this announcement at an emergency press conference on December 30th. Fazl-i-Mula, Malik Ameer Khan and AftabHussain were prominent among the speakers at the press conference.
There are more than 400 government schools in the federal capital, employing over 15,000 teachers and other staff, all of them up in arms against the Ordinance.
The Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) is the supreme body that looks after these schools and employees.
The school employees’ boycott comes at the heel of a lockdown ultimatum by the labour union of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), another big employer with a nearly 15,000-strong workforce.
The CDA and FDE employees have a common cause. Both see the new law as a blow to their service structure and job security.
Ali Nawaz Awan, advisor to the prime minister on CDA affairs, has had a packed schedule, between placating the protestors and making promises that are yet to be fulfilled.
Before evaluating the unrest that is in store for the federal capital, it is important to know the context of the Ordinance.
Since its inception in 1960, Islamabad never had a local government system. Finally, in 2015, the Local Government Act was pushed through the parliament to ensure compliance with court orders in this regard.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, then in power, brought Sheikh Ansar to Islamabad and he was elected the first mayor of the city. The mayor was accused of corruption and generally mired in controversy until he was removed from his office by the federal cabinet. The National Accountability Bureau and other institutions have been investigating the allegations against him.
Under the Act, service delivery organs of the CDA dealing with water supply and sanitation were placed under the Metropolitan Corporation of Islamabad (MCI). However, the MCI failed to fulfil its responsibilities and the salaries of its employees remained unpaid. These departments were then returned to the CDA.
In the absence of the mayor, the Islamabad deputy commissioner was made the administrator of the MCI for six months with the approval of the federal cabinet.The tenure ended at the beginning of this year. Elections are now awaited under the new local government law.
The Joint Action Committee says their protest will continue until the repeal of Clause 166 of the Ordinance. This clause places educational institutions under the Municipal Corporation of Islamabad. They say this will have a negative impact on the quality of education.
The FDE and CDA employees fear a recurrence of the nightmare.
“As for FDE employees, unlike CDA employees, they do not object to being subject to oversight by the mayor. Their main concern is the clauses in the Ordinance that compromise their job security as federal government employees.This can lead to privatisation of educational institutions,” Faisal Kaleem, a senior education reporter, tells The News on Sunday.
The Joint Action Committee says that their protest will continue until the repeal of Clause 166 of the Ordinance. The clause places educational institutions under the MCI, which the teachers say will have a negative impact on the quality of education.
Asked about the loss students will have to bear due to this strike, JAC leader Ameer Khan says that their struggle is meant to save students from a bigger loss.
The committee says that Education Minister ShafqatMehmood had promised to protect their jobsbut he failed to keep his word.
It is not for the first time that schools are going to be closed on account of protests against the Ordinance. The FDE employees have been protesting constantly. Their campaign picked up pace when they made a significant show of power close to the Parliament House on Constitution Avenue in the first week of December.
They had gathered in front of the National Press Club (NPC) before trying to march to D-Chowk. Islamabad Police tried to stop them but they managed to reach the Constitution Avenue where Fazl-i-Mula announced that they will shut down the schools.
PML-N stalwartTariq Fazl Chaudhry, PPP’s Sibtul Hassan Bukhari and JI’s MianAslamvisited them and expressed solidarity with the protesting teachers.
Some promises were made and the protest was broken up. Lamenting the “empty” promises, the committee has now given a call for boycott of schools after winter holidays. It has also thanked the parliamentary committees and politicians for supporting its cause.
The teachers say that since the office of the mayor is political, a federal government might be tempted to victimise an elected mayor from a rival party by withholding funds and cooperation and thus jeopardising teachers’ jobs and the process of education. Committee members say that the government representatives had shown them a draft of a proposed amendment in the Ordinance addressing concerns. It was after receiving these assurances that the teachers returned to their duties while still wearing black armbands as a symbol of protest. Frustrated with the government’s handling of the situation, they say, they have been again forced to go on a strike.
The CDA employees say their reason for the protest lockdown includes the alleged incompetence and corruption of an elected mayor.
Sharafat Ali, a member of the Child Protection Advisory Board and Anti-Rape Committee, says that running government affairs through ordinances is undemocratic. He says the government has been unable to devise a sustainable system of local governance in Islamabad, the KP and the Punjab. “I was a part of the legal team when the local government was installed in Islamabad in 2015. After its inception, no one knew what to do with it. The situation currently is more confusing than ever. It is unfair to put 15,000 government employees under a system that is unclear and unsustainable,” he says.
He says that once the government sets up a local government system in Islamabad in a clear-headed manner, it can put schools under the mayorin consultation with all the stakeholders.
“If you put schools under the local government, what will you do when the Local Government Ordinance lapses? Legislation through ordinance is unthinkable under normal circumstances,” he said.
Once there is no mayor, the PAS officers take over the MCI, which amounts to the invasion of career bureaucrats in every field of life. Teaching is a specialised profession.It must not be taken so lightly.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad. Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.shehzad @iiui.edu.pk