The new school year in Libya is well into its second week but classes remain closed because of a teacher’s strike.
Teachers motivated by a desire for better pay and improved living conditions are staging sit-ins in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, and Tripoli, the capital.
Chemistry teacher Ramadan Mohamed, a 47-year-old father of six among those on strike in Benghazi, said he had been forced to take up work as a taxi driver to provide for his family.
“There are times I miss classes when I have financial obligations,” he said. “If I had an excellent salary that covered the needs of my home, I wouldn’t do another job, I’d devote all my time to students and teaching.”
The North African country is riddled with massive challenges due to conflict and a strain on the national budget due to a huge wage bill.
Living standards in oil-rich Libya, once one of the wealthiest countries in the region, have been sliding downwards amid stop-start warfare and political turmoil.
Monthly salaries range from 500 to 850 Libyan dinars ($360-$610) in state-run schools and have not risen significantly since before the uprising that overthrew former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Schools are run down, and teachers do not receive health insurance or bonuses.
A large proportion of Libya’s population of 6.5 million people depend on state salaries, which account for more than half of all public spending – a legacy of corruption and political patronage before and after 2011.
Funded by oil revenues, salaries are paid by the Tripoli central bank to citizens across the country. Some fraudulent or duplicate salaries have been eliminated, but many collect wages without working.
The education sector is especially bloated. Officials in Tripoli said nearly 240,000 teachers and other staff were on its books in western and southern regions, including 60,000-70,000 replacement teachers.
The head of the teachers’ union in Benghazi said another 190,000 teachers were registered under the government in the east.
The eastern parliament approved a decree last year to increase teachers’ salaries, but it has not been implemented.
In Tripoli, some school buildings are being used as shelters for people displaced by recent fighting, which had disrupted schooling before the summer.