Private school teachers bear brunt of pandemic
Shaken by pay cuts & lay-off, they seek govt intervention for minimum wage, job security
COIMBATORE: Tamil Nadu has 24,926* recognised private unaided schools spread across the State. They play a critical role in preparing about 59 lakh of TN’s schoolchildren to navigate their lives as adults.
But the 2,59,191* teachers employed by them often get a raw deal. Sources said a primary teacher of a private school in a city drew a monthly salary of anywhere between Rs 12,000 and Rs 20,000 before the pandemic while their government school counterparts drew Rs 35,000-70,000.
During the first two waves of Covid-19, many of them suffered salary cuts up to two-third of their pre-pandemic payments. Thirty-two-year-old Chengalpattu resident K Banupriya was one of them. In the aftermath of the pandemic, her Rs 14,200 monthly salary was cut to Rs 5,000.
A teacher in Coimbatore said many private schools collected full fees during the pandemic years but refused to pay teachers full salaries. “It was only recently that they rolled back our pay cuts.” The teacher said they were told to not take casual leaves this year as well. “We are overworked and underpaid, but none will speak up, for we don’t have a platform where we can raise our problems without risking our jobs.”
S Jayakannan, president of TN Private School Teacher Association, said many teachers left the profession during the pandemic. K Suresh, who quit being a teacher at a private school in Erode, said, “After Covid-19 outbreak, my Rs 17,700-monthly salary was halved. When I questioned this, the school management started harassing me. So, I quit that job and became a coconut seller.”
Jayakannan said inflation rose by 10-15% between 2020 and 2022. “But, private teachers’ salaries didn’t increase at all. We have been urging the State government to form a welfare board for private school teachers and a fix a minimum salary of Rs 25,000 and offer some sort of job security. The State government was yet to take the request seriously,” he said, adding that they were in the process of mobilising private school teachers for a protest against the government.
Private school representatives, however, said school managements were forced to cut teachers’ salaries. KR Nandhakumar, president of TN Nursery Primary Matriculation Higher Secondary Schools Association, said the State government, during the lockdowns, asked school managements to not collect fees. “We managed to get a court direction that parents should pay a 75% of the fee. In reality, however, only about 50% of the parents paid the fees owing to the economic crisis. Some financially well-off parents even took advantage of the situation to avoid paying the fee. So, a majority of schools were forced to halve staff salaries.”
He, however, agreed that a few private schools collected full fees against the court direction, but added: “Though private schools weren’t open for 800 days owing to Covid-19, the State government forced us to pay 18 types of taxes, such as property tax, professional tax, tax for school buses, among others. Schools have to repay loans, meet maintenance expenses, and, most importantly, some school education department officials demand bribe for renewing school recognition. That’s the ground reality.”
When contacted, a top official from the school education department said many private school gave low salaries to their teachers but collected high fees. “Many private schools violated the court direction on fee collection as well. Though we received complaints from parents, we couldn’t act against such private schools as they are run by politicians and influential businessmen. Our hands are tied; we can only ask them not to repeat the violation”.
School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi couldn’t be reached for comments.
*As per UDISE data for the 2020-21 academic year
With inputs from Subashini Vijayakumar @ Chennai and Jeyalakshmi Ramanujam @ Madurai
(In this series, TNIE looked at the impact of Covid-19 on Tamil Nadu’s school education system)
CASE IN HIGH COURT
KM Karthik of All India Private College Employees Union said the labour department fixed minimum wages for teaching and non-teaching staff of private schools until 2003. In 2004, private schools moved the HC to restrain the department from fixing wages for teachers, claiming that institutions run by societies were non-profit organisations and that all private schools in the State were governed by the TN Recognised Private Schools Regulations Act. In 2011, HC said the department can fix wages for only non-teaching staff