THE UNLIMITED teachers’ strike announced for late November was suspended after three days without any development in the negotiations between the government and the teachers’ unions. Results came only on December 3, when government representatives met with the unions and put forth their proposal of a 5-percent wage hike plus tenure for teachers aged 55 and older, which has left unionists undecided for the time being.
Government offers hike and tenure
Leaders of the Trade Unions of Employees of the Education Sector and Science (OZ PŠaV) received a new offer from the government on December 3 that would result in a gross pay hike by 5 percent for employees in the education sector next year. Moreover, the government has offered tenure to teachers after they serve 25 years in the education sector and turn 55, to become effective as of September 2013. OZ PŠaV leaders will decide on the latest offer from the government at a meeting scheduled for December 5.
Teachers could get an additional 2.5-percent salary increase thanks to a measure the government proposed that would ensure that 100 percent of the money received by schools from the education ministry will go exclusively toward teachers’ salaries [as opposed to the current situation whereby local and regional government administrators can keep 10 percent of the money], the Sme daily reported Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič as saying after the meeting on December 3. The measure should become effective as of January 2013. In practice that would mean a teacher with an average gross monthly salary of €780 would receive about €58 more each month, according to Sme.
Teachers could further increase their salaries in 2014 – 2016 from the salaries of laid-off teachers who would leave the sector as a result of the “personnel optimalisation” process, said OZ PŠaV head Pavel Ondek as reported by Sme.
New unions not happy with proposal
On December 4 it was thus still unclear whether schools would close their doors again by the end of the first week of December, as announced during the weekend by Ondek.
“If we don’t reach an agreement, and the deadline is by Wednesday [December 5], protests will resume,” Ondek said on December 2 as quoted by the Sme daily.
The New School Trade Unions (NŠO), an organisation that emerged in protest to the conduct of the School Trade Unions in negotiations with the government and the decision to suspend the strike, were quick to criticise the government’s offer. They maintain the finances for schools should be transferred without any mediators, directly from the state coffers to the account of the school, the NŠO head Ľudovít Sebelédi said as reported by the SITA newswire. They also are also calling on the normative financing of schools per pupil to be reconsidered.
NŠO also opposed the fact that the increase of salaries in 2014 – 2016 is not guaranteed due to the financial crisis.
“The priorities of the NŠO remain that 6 percent of GDP should go to the education sector and the tariff salary of a teacher should be increased to 80 percent of the average salary of a person with a university education in Slovakia, both within three years,” Sebelédi said as quoted by SITA.
Status, not salaries, say activists
Meanwhile, a group of activists, including experts on education as well as prominent Slovak artists, actors and television personalities, wrote an open letter addressed to Education Minister Čaplovič and head of OZ PŠaV Ondek in which they complained that the strike should not be narrowed down to the question over salaries.
“The discussion about the increase of salaries has, unfortunately, led us to a dead end and we have reason to worry that more young teachers will leave the sector and the older generation of teachers will remain bitter and drained of energy,” the letter, dated November 29, reads. “Such a scenario would be a serious blow for the future of education in Slovakia.”
Instead, the discussion should focus on how to make the job of a teacher more attractive by 2020 so that the best, most qualified people become teachers, according to the initiative behind the letter entitled “Teacher 2020”. The letter was signed by head of the Slovak Chamber of Teachers Mária Barancová, head of the Association of State Gymnasiums’ Headmasters Pavel Sadloň and others.
The representatives of the ‘Teacher 2020’ initiative met with Minister Čaplovič in late November and put forward their three demands: that excellent students should study teaching, since only 1 percent of students currently opt for teaching as their first choice; that an annual increase in finances flowing into education and into teachers’ salaries should be guaranteed, with the aim for Slovak teachers to earn between €1,200 – 1,600, based on the average salary of people with a university education in Slovakia; and that the schools network should be optimised, as well as the number of teachers, to reach the OECD average, which is lower than the Slovak average.
Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič and representatives of regional governments, who act as administrators of schools in their regions and municipalities, have voiced the opinion that there are far too many teachers in the system, given the system’s needs and the demographic trends that show the numbers of children dropping. They hinted at possible lay-offs among teachers, but did not specify when and how many, according to Sme.
“The Žilina self-governing region, which is an administrator of 67 secondary schools, has recorded a drop in the number of students by 1,957 compared to last year, while the number of teachers was left unchanged,” said the region’s president Juraj Blanár (Smer), who is responsible for the education sector in association with the country’s eight self-governing regions, as quoted by Sme.
In Slovakia there are 14.8 pupils per teacher on average. The number is only lower in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia and Ireland.
Strike continued despite official halt
The decision to suspend the strike came on November 28, on the third day of strike, to provide space for negotiations with the government.
“The reason is that on Tuesday [November 27] negotiations started with representatives of the Slovak government on the goals and reasons of the strike in order to improve the quality of Slovakia’s education and to secure more money for the sector, particularly for the quality of education,” Ondek said as quoted by SITA.
By November 29 OZ PŠaV had still not reached any definite agreement with the government, but published a statement on its website claiming that support for the strike had dropped significantly in the regions. However, the NŠO called the suspension of the strike a waste, and teachers at several schools around Slovakia vowed to continue striking.
“We take such a step as an unprecedented misuse of the strike potential and also as injustice towards those school facilities and teachers who, despite their poor wages, had resolved to remain on strike for more than three days,” said Sebelédi at that time as quoted by SITA.
On Friday November 30, more than 1,000 discontented students and teachers from 12 schools gathered in front of the Government Office and marched towards parliament.
Despite the official halt of the strike, about 20 schools, of which 17 are in Bratislava, wanted to continue striking on December 3, with representatives of the schools scheduled to meet to discuss further steps, according to SITA.
Two local schools in Bratislava started a so-called relay strike on Monday, December 3. Along with other schools throughout Slovakia they voiced their disagreement with last week’s decision by the school trade unions to suspend the unlimited nationwide strike, according to SITA.
“We did not [stop striking] mostly because we wanted to look into the mirror in the morning [and say that] I am a teacher and no one will […] manipulate me, us,” Eva Horníková, deputy headmistress of the elementary school on Karloveská Street in Bratislava, told SITA. Yet, she stressed that the school supports negotiations between the trade unions and the government.
4. Dec 2012 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani