Turkmen Teachers Sweep the Streets

The Soviet “subbotnik” and “voskresnik” – weekend days when people had to turn out for voluntary work – are alive and well in Turkmenistan. Nowadays, though, the practice has evolved into an absurd system where everyone seems to be doing someone else’s jo

Turkmen Teachers Sweep the Streets

The Soviet “subbotnik” and “voskresnik” – weekend days when people had to turn out for voluntary work – are alive and well in Turkmenistan. Nowadays, though, the practice has evolved into an absurd system where everyone seems to be doing someone else’s jo

Tuesday, 31 October, 2006
In the eastern city of Turkmenabat, for example, municipal street cleaners have been dispatched to the countryside to tend the cotton crop. So their place is taken by schoolteachers and other white-collar workers in the public sector, who have to work after hours and at weekends – sweeping the city streets, clearing up demolition sites, and trimming trees.



The extra two or three hours’ labour, plus weekend days, was an extra burden at the end of the school year because teachers already had exams to run and mark and reports to write.



A local education official in Turkmenabat admitted teachers were being placed under too much pressure since they were being diverted from their main task of educating young people for the future.



In Turkmenabat, the authorities seem to be juggling resources on a tight budget, and once the street cleaners had been sent to the fields, officials had no cash to pay for replacements. This seems strange in a country that earns significant hard currency earnings from gas and cotton exports, but this money does not appear to reach the government’s general budget.



To save on expenditure, the government has sacked whole swathes of public sector employees across the country, for example hospital staff. To fill in, soldiers were drafted in to serve as medical orderlies.



As well as municipal workers, the city authorities have also sent out workers from factories in Turkmenabat – a major textile manufacturing centre – to work the fields. One textile worker said he and his colleagues were divided up into teams and sent off to work on farms dozens of kilometres from the city for ten or 15 days at a time. To make things worse, the workers have to pays the cost of getting there and feeding themselves during their time there.



Some find creative solutions such as the staff at one factory, who pay villagers to do their work for them. Others end up being forced to resign from their jobs as they cannot leave their families for such a long time.

Turkmenistan
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