TUNIS - Tunisia has suspended salary payments for 17,000 teachers and sacked 350 school principals over protests demanding an increase in pay, authorities said on Monday.
The salary suspensions could affect about 30% of the country's primary school teachers, and will escalate the conflict with the powerful UGTT union at a time when the North African country's citizens grapple with a dire economic crisis.
As part of their protest, teachers in the country have refused to hand in school grades.
"The students' failure to obtain school grades is a disaster and a crime against children," Education Minister Mahamed Ali Bougdiri said.
Ikbel Azzabi, a union official, told Reuters that Tunisia's decision aims at "starving teachers", and the next school season would be difficult due to expected protest movements. Hundreds of school principals have already started submitting their resignations.
The education ministry maintains that the country's public finances do not allow the teachers' requests to be approved.
Dozens of thousands of families fear that the conflict between the ministry and union will deepen the ongoing crisis in Tunisia and threaten a turbulent new school season, while they are already facing high inflation, poor public services, and the loss of several food commodities.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Devika Syamnath)