Don’t take students hostage

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Don’t take students hostage

Temporary workers at 933 out of 9,647 public elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon, Daejeon, Gwangju and Daegu went on strike Friday to demand better working conditions. As a result, those schools could not provide lunches because the strikers included cooks and nutritionists. Some students were lucky enough to have their meal delivered by their parents. But most of the kids with working mothers or coming from low-class neighborhoods got through the day with snacks provided by their schools. Some schools sent students home early because of the unprecedented disruption in school meals.

The strike was wrong because it victimized children and violated their right to a meal to get them through the school day. The school walkout cannot be justified and should not be repeated.

But the complaints and walkout by the part-timers and irregular staff was foreseeable. Meal catering at schools became self-administered due to demand by teachers’ unions and civic groups after liberal education superintendents started their campaign for free school lunches for all students in the nation. To save costs, schools had to hire cafeteria staff on a temporary or part-time basis. There were a great number of cafeteria workers taking part in the strike in Gyeonggi Province and other areas that provide free school meals.

The unions representing part-time and irregular workers at schools are demanding education authorities allow incremental pay increases, guarantees of promotions to permanent employment after a certain period of time and participation in voting for education superintendent. About 1.03 trillion won ($946.7 million) worth of the annual budget is estimated to be needed if all the part-time workers at schools are entitled to incremental raises. Schools cannot renovate toilets and classrooms because of the funding being used for the universal free lunches. What are the unions thinking by going on strike for additional budgets for themselves at the expense of their students’ well-being?

Education authorities should endeavor to improve working conditions of the irregular workers but at the same time they should be stern about any action that disturbs and infringes on students’ rights. The workers who joined the strike should not be paid based on the no-work, no-pay principle. The students and their parents were the victims in this case. What use is all this talk of welfare and free school meals when students end up bringing their own lunches to school?

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