After five years of protests and negotiations, Libyan university professors have managed to get the government to agree to a 70 percent increase in their wages. The weekly overtime wage has also been increased from $15 to $22 per hour.
However, some doubt the increases will actually go into effect.
“The planned increase is a legal and due entitlement that does not require parliamentary approval,” Taher ben Taher, director of university affairs at the Libyan Ministry of Higher Education, said in a phone call, “because the law has been there for years but was not implemented.”
He worries, however, that the Ministry of Finance will not include the pay increases in the new budget, arguing that the country cannot afford them because of poor economic conditions and obligations to repay government debts.
A Decade of Stagnant Wages
Since the outbreak of the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the wages of professors at Libya’s universities have not been raised, while inflation rates kept rising to reach 20 percent, according to World Bank reports.
Monthly salaries for faculty members in Libya’s public universities range from 950 Libyan dinars (about $210) for an assistant lecturer to 2,100 Libyan dinars (about $460) for an associate professor. Meanwhile, an average Libyan family of five persons has monthly expenses of about 1,600 dinars per month ($350). (See a related article, “A Survey of Public-University Professor’s Pay.”)
“We are in a constant and open fight with public institutions to fulfill the rights of faculty members,” Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh, head of the General Syndicate of University Faculty Members in Libya, said in a phone call.
“We are in a constant and open fight with public institutions to fulfill the rights of faculty members.”Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh
Head of the General Syndicate of University Faculty Members in Libya
Like professors at public universities in most Arab countries, university professors in Libya complain of low wages. However, the political divisions in the country since the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime and the east-west division of official institutions that followed caused the economic situation to deteriorate, worsening the living standards of teachers and prompting them to protest many times. (See a related article, “A Country Runs Out of Cash, and Students Suffer.”)
“Five years ago, I started the appeals that turned into negotiations and led to the formation of pressure groups,” said Al-Sayeh, “The situation sometimes developed into direct clashes and the shutdown of educational institutions.”
Unifying Professors’ Demands
The General Syndicate, a registered and elected institution representing Libyan university professors, played a key role in organizing and unifying the claims of professors from eastern and western Libya, especially in light of the difficulty of coordination among faculty members in universities due to the presence of two governments at the time. (Libya recently took steps toward reunifying state institutions under a new interim “Government of National Unity,” but many threats to the nation’s political stability remain.)
To overcome the difficulty of holding in-person meetings across the divided country, the syndicate organized meetings with professors from western Libya electronically and established pages on social media to receive the professor’s proposals.
“We agreed, in coordination with the syndicate, to present each union separately from the Universities of Benghazi and Tripoli as representatives of East and West Libya for a single proposal,” said Salaheddin Sharif, a professor at the University of Benghazi’s Faculty of Science. “That is, to increase wages with slight differences in their value, to the government each university is affiliated with until we guarantee the increase for everyone.”
We agreed, in coordination with the syndicate, to present each union separately from the Universities of Benghazi and Tripoli as representatives of East and West Libya for a single proposal.”Salaheddin Sharif
A professor at the University of Benghazi
In September 2019, the syndicate organized, for the first time, a comprehensive strike despite the ongoing war in the Libyan capital. (See a related article, “A Professors’ Strike in Libya Reveals a Troubled University System.”)
“We were forced to hold a sit-in, despite the country’s instability, to emphasize the legitimacy of our demands and the importance of helping teachers keep performing their educational duties,” said Al-Sayeh.
“It was a long struggle, and a bitter one waged by the syndicate and its sub-unions,” he said.
The Fight Goes On
Sharif, the science professor at the University of Benghazi, does not believe that university professors’ problems have all been solved by the decision to increase wages.
“There are many difficulties that we still have to face,” he said, noting the destruction of many university buildings during the conflict and the weak budgets dedicated to rehabilitating the infrastructure, training teachers, and supporting researchers.
“We are trapped inside the country because of the lack of capabilities,” he said. “We do not have opportunities to travel for development and training because of the high cost and current limitations.”
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And some, like Al-Sayeh, of the General Syndicate, and Taher, who previously was head of Misurata University, are concerned that the raises will be delayed.
“Everything is possible,” said Taher. “But if it happens, we will have to escalate through strikes and sit-ins, and we might suspend work in all universities until our demand is answered.”