The coming Eid ul Fitr will be second Eid without salary for most private school teachers in Kashmir. The previous Eid was in August last year, when the whole Kashmir was under strict curfew imposed by the administration. That curfew hurt almost every sector of Kashmir economy, including the education industry. But when life returned to normal in December and many sectors of economy began to work, schools went for winter vacations. They re-opened in the last week of February 2020, only to be closed again in mid-March due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Since then, schools are closed and education is taking place online, with both teachers and students struggling with low internet speed.
In this long, unprecedented closure, many schools have not paid salaries to their staff for the past many months. As per the JKPSA – an amalgam of private school owners – some 65,000 teaching and non-teaching staff has no source of income. The reason being told for this mess is that schools have stopped receiving fees from students and there is no source of income for school managements either. This is partially untrue, as many parents have paid fees till March at least, when their wards were promoted to new classes. All of us know that it is an unwritten rule in private schools not to allow the students to move to next class until the dues of the previous class are cleared. So, why private schools have denied salaries to their staff? They should at least pay salaries till March.
The reality is that the staff’s salary is not the priority of the school, even in normalcy. The priority is the instalments to banks against the heavy loans that these schools have taken to build infrastructure in order to attract parents. Even in the current situation, if the parents pay fees, it is very unlikely that schools will pay salaries in full to their staff. Further, private schools charge skyrocketing tuition fee, bus fee, annual charges, printing and building fee, apart from the one-time admission fee that varies from Rs 30,000 to Rs 1 lakh per student. The schools earn in crores annually, why can’t they pay their staff from their savings in this challenging time, when other private establishments are paying their staff?
It is illogical to make the staff salary subservient to school fees. Private schools are like any other business establishments, subject to profit and loss, so why should the private teacher bear losses when he or she is not sharing in the profit? A private teacher is an employee and not a share holder. He has not signed any agreement with his employer that in case the school suffers any losses, he will not ask for salary. A private school is bound to pay its employees and also has the right to collect fees. But making the staff salary dependent on fees is unethical and wrong.
Private teachers are wholly and solely dependent upon the institutions they work for. They have families, children, parents and other responsibilities to shoulder. How they can survive this lockdown when big businessmen and other wealthy people are yelling day and night about their sufferings. They even can’t go for loans as there is no guarantee to repay it. This is inhumane; they have served this society well and today they need its support. We as a society need to speak for them and make the private schools bound to pay their salaries before this Eid, as no human on earth can survive without money for ten long months. Enough they have suffered and now they need respite. The government can be very helpful if it include them in some relief package, as the one announced recently for the needy and destitute in view of the Covid-19 lockdown.