Sunday, February 17, 2008

Three Tunisian teachers conduct hunger strike to regain their jobs

Three Tunisian teachers conduct hunger strike to regain their jobs
Claiming they lost their contracts for political reasons, three Tunisian secondary school teachers launched a hunger strike five weeks ago to compel the education ministry to restore their jobs. Attention to their protest has mounted, along with concern about their deteriorating health.
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 20/12/07
[Jamel Arfaoui] Teachers Moez Zoghlami (left) and Ali Jallouli were rushed to the hospital after experiencing fainting episodes
As a hunger strike by three Tunisian high school teachers moved into its fifth week, medical reports said the teachers' health status has dangerously deteriorated. Two of the protestors, Ali Jallouli and Moez Zoghlami, were rushed to a Tunis hospital December 13th to receive emergency aid after they experienced fainting episodes and breathing difficulties.
Jallouli, a philosophy teacher in the city of Kebili and Zoghlami, an English teacher in the city of Tozeur, began their hunger strike along with Tunis philosophy teacher Mohamed Moumni on November 20th to demand a return to their work, after the Ministry of Education refused to renew their work contracts. The three claimed they were fired for political reasons. An education ministry source who wished to remain anonymous denied their assertion.
Hunger striker Mohamed Moumni insisted to Magharebia, however, that the ministry "punished us for political and syndicate reasons, especially after our participation in the strike last April 11th, in which more than 110,000 educators took part." Moumni said the ministry "wanted us to be an example for those considering [a strike], especially since we are among the teachers hired in accordance with the contract system."
The teachers' strike has garnered national and international attention. Supporters of the strike include the Tunisian League for Defence of Human Rights, journalists, students and the General Syndicate for Secondary Education. From France, some Tunisian immigrants' associations issued statements supporting the strikers and demanding that they be reinstated.
On December 15th, a large group of unionists and students gathered at Mohammed Ali Square, where the teachers are conducting their hunger strike at the Tunisian General Labour Union’s headquarters. The supporters chanted slogans such as "Persevere…persevere until the expelled are returned" and "Work, freedom, national dignity".
A group of nationally-recognised lawyers, writers, journalists, and doctors also established a committee to support the striking teachers. In its first statement on December 18th, the group declared that the strike "is aimed at defending the right to work and the right to unionise, which are safeguarded by the Tunisian country’s constitution and by numerous international agreements and charters ratified by the Tunisian state."
Moumni said he and his two colleagues only began the hunger strike after "we exhausted all possible contacts." He told Magharebia, "We knocked on all doors, including [those of] the administrative arbitrator, the Higher Commission for Human Rights and all the [political] parties without exception. But in the end, we found that all the doors remained closed in our faces, even though our simple demand is for us to exercise our right to work."
The education ministry’s reversal of its decision is the only thing that will cause them to give up the hunger strike. "We will not stop, and we will hold our ground to until the end."
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