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Teachers consider strike

A 5-PERCENT pay hike will not eliminate the threat of another nationwide teachers’ strike as trade unions of employees of the education sector say they will not settle for less than a 10-percent increase to teachers’ salaries. Finance Minister Peter Kažimír offered a 5-percent increase on October 9, arguing that the state cannot squeeze more than €65 million from its coffers due to the government’s commitment to tame the public finance deficit. Educational institutions at all levels, from kindergartens to universities, have already been forced to close once this year, on September 13, by teachers’ striking for a 10-percent pay increase.

A 5-PERCENT pay hike will not eliminate the threat of another nationwide teachers’ strike as trade unions of employees of the education sector say they will not settle for less than a 10-percent increase to teachers’ salaries. Finance Minister Peter Kažimír offered a 5-percent increase on October 9, arguing that the state cannot squeeze more than €65 million from its coffers due to the government’s commitment to tame the public finance deficit. Educational institutions at all levels, from kindergartens to universities, have already been forced to close once this year, on September 13, by teachers’ striking for a 10-percent pay increase.

While Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič on October 10 said he still believed that the unions would rationally consider Kažimír’s offer, head of the Trade Unions of Employees of the Education Sector and Science (OZ PŠaV) Pavel Ondek suggested that the teachers will probably go on strike. He argued that a monthly €36 added to the payroll of pedagogues and €18 to other employees in the sector is simply not enough. Based on this plan, university educators would not see a pay raise.

“I firmly believe that the trade unions will be deciding first of all rationally and consider all the possibilities,” Čaplovič said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, arguing that since teachers, unlike other professions in the public sector, will not see the budget for their salaries decrease by 5 percent in line with the austerity measures, they will de facto get the requested 10 percent.
The government is proposing a 5 percent reduction in the wages of employees in the public sector for 2013.

Ondek promptly rejected Čaplovič’s logic: “I do not know what kind of maths that is,” he said, adding that it is certainly not a 10-percent pay hike. The unions, who are also shooting for an increase in teacher and professional staff salaries to 1.2 to 2.0 times the average wage in the national economy, are expected to decide on further action on October 15. The unions are also demanding that annual investment in education be increased gradually to 6 percent of the country’s gross national product (GDP).

Ľudovít Sebelédi, leader of the New School Unions (NŠO), another trade union organisation, said that Ondek has promised several times that the unions would not go under 10 percent in the bargain and believes that if the government refuses to change its position, Ondek would announce a strike, TASR newswire reported.

The NŠO, along with the Slovak Chamber of Teachers, among others, is also demanding that pedagogues and professional employees have their sick-leave paid in full, arguing that they are exposed to ill children on a regular basis. They also demand that summer break for teachers be expanded to the same length as that of the students. The unions are also considering the need for the introduction of tenure for teachers at schools.

Kažimír said that until the unions decide on the offer, the state would create a special reserve in next year’s state budget within the budgetary administration chapter. If the unions take the offer the money would go to the coffers of the ministry. The sum also takes into account the related expenses of local government, SITA reported.

While 47 percent of surveyed teachers are happy with their work, only 15 percent said they were satisfied with their wages, according to a worldwide survey of wages and work conditions by WageIndicator, which in Slovakia is known as MojPlat.sk, according to SITA newswire.

Last year, on September 13, more than 9,000 teachers from every part of Slovakia gathered in front of the Government Office in Bratislava to express their discontent with what they called inadequate funding for schools. They later opted to shelve their strike plans when the government of Iveta Radičová lost a vote of confidence. It agreed to remain in office only until an early general election in March 2012, but did not appear to have the mandate to address their demands.

Meanwhile, however, Slovak hospital doctors pressed on and in December 2011 were involved in a large-scale protest in which more than 1,200 physicians threatened to quit if the government refused to boost their pay. The government finally granted the doctors a three-step salary increase, starting with a salary increase to 1.05 to 1.6 times the average salary in the Slovak economy on January 1, 2012, and to 1.25 to 2.3 of the average salary in January 2013, depending on each doctor’s level of education and experience.

With the involvement of teachers from 90 percent of nursery and primary schools, nearly 80 percent of secondary schools and around 30 percent of universities and colleges, this year’s strike was the biggest since 2003, when teachers protested twice. Those strikes proved successful: in October 2003 the government agreed to raise salaries by 7 percent, SITA wrote.

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