New school year starts without minister, unions fighting for salaries

The 2017-2018 school year starting on September 4 in an unprecedented way.

Head of OPZŠaV union, Pavel Ondek, crucially refusing to sign the memo on September 30.Head of OPZŠaV union, Pavel Ondek, crucially refusing to sign the memo on September 30. (Source: TASR)

After education minister Peter Plavčan was recalled due to the scandal surrounding the shady drawing of E -funds, the ministry is temporarily being led by Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matečná (both nominees of minor coalition partner SNS). The SNS has not announced the name of the permanent replacement as of that date.

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Not only a minister but the future of the project initiated by his predecessor, Learning Slovakia, is unclear. After a call by the reform’s authors, 4,000 comments arrived, which are now being included in the wording. However, the result may be shelved as there is no one to show it to. Even the SNS itself seems not to care too much – and sacking Plavčan may be the ideal pretence for the party not to launch the reform at all, the Sme daily wrote.

Union refuses memo

On August 30, The Education and Science Employees Trade Union’s (OZPŠaV’s) leaders announced that they would not sign a memorandum on social reconciliation with the government, which was supposed to guarantee teachers a combined salary rise of 26.25 percent by 2020 on condition that the educators would forgo their right to organise strikes until 2020. The unionists stated, as quoted by the TASR newswire, that they do not want to give up their constitutional right to negotiate better working and salary conditions within annual collective bargaining.

Coalition strikes back

In response to the trade union’s move, the coalition leaders announced that the cabinet will increase salaries only by the first promised 6 percent as of September, while further increases by the same percentage planned for September 2018 and 2019 are not guaranteed. Originally, they even said they would raise them as late as January 2018, the coalition party Most-Híd told TASR.

Read also:Matečná to temporarily head Education Ministry Read more 

In July, the government approved salary hikes for teachers by 6 percent as of September, with other increases by the same percentage due in September 2018 and 2019. However, in exchange for this, Prime Minister Robert Fico expected OZPŠaV to sign the memo on refraining from organising strikes. The coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) told TASR that it respects the union’s stance. “No one can ask trade unionists to renounce one of their fundamental rights, which is the right to strike,” stated SNS vice-chair Eva Smolíková, adding that the party insists that teachers’ salaries should be increased as of September.

The opposition SaS party also saw it as proper that OZPŠaV decided not to sign a memorandum on social reconciliation with the government and not give up its right to strike.

The outcome

Head of the OZPŠaV unions, Pavel Ondek, said, according to the Pravda daily, he wanted to negotiate further increases, starting at 10 percent next year. “The government has committed itself to treating the education sector as its priority,” Ondek pointed out.

After the coalition council session, Fico said that the cabinet will only increase teachers’ salaries by the first promised 6 percent as of September; while further increases by the same percentage planned for September 2018 and 2019 are not guaranteed. The PM said that the unionists rejected an offer for record salary hikes, so the cabinet can only provide the first part of the deal, adding that the current offer went beyond the government manifesto and that further negotiations in this regard will probably follow the original commitment of the Manifesto.

The issue of teachers’ salaries would remain a priority. “We’re keen to help teachers even more in the future,” said Andrej Danko, chairman of the coalition partner SNS, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

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