DUBAI, Dec 14 (Reuters) – The Iranian parliament debated legislation on Tuesday to raise the wages of elementary and secondary school teachers who have gone on a nationwide strike over low pay.

With an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions and now just recovering from the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East, Iran has faced nearly continuous protests by workers in the past year over inflation exceeding 40%, high unemployment and mismanagement.

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Thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers held rallies in several cities on Monday, the third day of the walkout, also demanding the release of colleagues detained by police, according to Iranian news outlets and rights groups.

A crowd estimated at several hundred in the southern city of Shiraz chanted, “Arrested teachers must be released!”. They read out the names of detained colleagues in a video carried by news websites.

A video posted on social media showed what appeared to be protesters chanting “Shame on you!” at police acting to break up a rally in front of parliament in the capital Tehran. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

State television said the Islamic Republic’s parliament on Tuesday approved part of a law that would guarantee teachers earn about 80 percent of the salaries of university faculty members, one of their demands.

Lawmaker Alireza Monadi told an economic website that a teacher would earn a minimum of about 80 million rials ($267) per month if the legislation is enacted, compared with an average of around 60 million rials now.

Monadi told state TV that the legislation was likely to pass on Wednesday.

“I have no information how many were arrested but I will definitely follow up the cases of arrested teachers,” Monadi, who heads parliament’s education committee, told the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

Education Minister Yousef Nouri said the law would be swiftly implemented after it is approved, the state news agency IRNA reported. The measure has been repeatedly introduced in the past decade but failed to pass.

Schools in more than 70 cities and towns in the country of 85 million people were affected on Sunday by the strike, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), which is based outside the country.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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