Public conciliator ready to help resolve Kiviõli school crisis

Public Conciliator Meelis Virkebau.
Public Conciliator Meelis Virkebau. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Uncertainty sparked by the unexpected firing of the principal of Kiviõli High School in early December has reached the negotiation stage ahead of an open-ended strike planned by teachers, and Public Conciliator Meelis Virkebau is prepared to lend a hand in resolving the crisis.

Virkebau may not formally get involved in the process as public conciliator, as the institution of public conciliator was established to resolve labor disputes which, in the context of the Collective Agreements Act, arise from disagreements regarding the enforcement of or changes to working conditions. "The Kiviõli case, however, is not such a case," Virkebau said.

He noted, however, that he is nonetheless prepared to contribute his experience with resolving complicated situations, particularly as he himself is a graduate of Kiviõli High School.

"For the past two weeks, I have been helping out the school community with my advice and expertise," Virkebau said. "If they want me to participate in the meeting, then I will plan on doing so, because as an alumnus of the school, I really do want to help them."

A strike notice signed by 42 Kiviõli High School teachers and submitted this Monday proposed January 6 as the date for pre-strike talks. Lüganuse Municipal Mayor Viktor Rauam has previously stated that he would announce when he had a plan ready for resolving the dispute.

One possible solution that has been discussed at various meetings has been that, for the sake of restoring peace at the school, former principal Heidi Uustalu is reinstated for the remainder of the current school year. This option was supported by Virkebau at the most recent public meeting, and Uustalu herself has said that she wouldn't rule this opportunity out if offered. According to Mariliis Randmer, a representative of teachers at the school, this option would suit the school community as well.

Heidi Uustalu was fired as principal of Kiviõli High School with a December 5 order of Lüganuse municipal government. On December 9, the school community sent the municipal government a letter demanding her reinstatement as principal. As bilateral negotiations were unsuccessful, teachers organized a one-hour warning strike on December 17.

Speaking at a conciliation meeting on December 28, Municipal Mayor Viktor Rauam said that he was prepared to resolve the issue over the course of January. The school community found that this approach was a delay tactic, especially as a competition has already been announced for a new school principal. In response, teachers announced in a letter sent to the municipality on December 30 that if their demand that Uustalu be reinstated as principal isn't met by January 13, they would begin an open-ended strike that same day.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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