Mérida, May 14th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- The Venezuelan government enacted a 30% salary increase and expanded a range of benefits for Venezuela's approximately half a million active and retired public school teachers on Tuesday, as a result of a collective contract agreement signed with teachers unions last Friday.
According to Education Minister Hector Navarro, Venezuela's public school teachers now earn more than 700% of what they were earning ten years ago, when President Hugo Chávez was first elected.
During a ceremony with Chávez on Tuesday, the general secretary of the national teachers union SINAFUM, Luis Matos, said the salary increase exceeds the normal adjustments to inflation.
Entrance level teachers without a graduate degree will now earn nearly twice the minimum wage, and experienced teachers with a graduate degree will earn three and a half times the minimum wage, said Matos. In real terms, this means entrance level teachers will earn 1,720 bolivars ($800) per month, and the higher level public teachers will earn more than 3,000 bolivars ($1,400) per month.
The collective contract guarantees transportation vouchers and health benefits to active teachers, expands health benefits for retired teachers, and guarantees pre natal and post natal maternity leave.
Also, the government will pay bonuses to teachers who reach seniority status, undergo special skills training, teach in under-privileged and rural areas, and teach in prisons. Coordinators and directors of educational programs will also receive a 20% bonus.
In addition to the teacher salary increase, the government increased the minimum wage by 10% last month, while it implemented austerity measures to cut costs including executive pay and bonuses in other government institutions, as a result of the world economic downturn.
During Tuesday's ceremony, Matos and other union leaders said part of the coming plan to improve public education is to set up new schooling councils in local communities, through which communities and student associations can discuss the issues affecting local public schools.
Teachers should also become educators beyond the classroom, said Matos. "We support the idea of volunteer educator brigades with the intention of educating our peoples, the working class, and the community in general," he said.
Union member Marta Rodríguez spoke of the need to restart the reform of the national curriculum. "It is very important to have the doors open to initiate the process of discussion of the curriculum, which is what we are going to do, to generate a new educational practice," she said.
In 2008, a draft of a new national curriculum was circulated among teachers for discussion in local workshops across the country, but the project was set aside as the regional and local elections approached in November.