Reemo Voltri: Freezing teachers' wages will result in a strike ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Reemo Voltri.
Reemo Voltri. Source: Hege-Lee Paiste, private collection

If the government maintains its freeze on teachers' salaries for the next four years and throws out the previously agreed upon salary advance plan, Estonia's stellar education system must be protected, with a strike if that is what it takes," Reemo Voltri writes in a comment originally published in Õpetajate Leht.

Teachers' salary negotiations between the government, the Estonian Association of Cities and Rural Municipalities and the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) ended in knowing that the salary of teachers will not be hiked in 2021. The situation is made worse by the 2021-2024 state budget strategy that clearly says that the wages of teachers will not grow over the next four years. The union that represents Estonian teachers is not satisfied with these results.

EHL has for many years proposed finding the resources needed to pay teachers a competitive salary and to avoid a looming disaster. No fewer than 40 percent of teachers in Estonia want to quit inside the next five years (OECD, 2020).

Several studies have shown the reason to be salaries that are not competitive when compared to the wages of other specialists with higher education. The recent round of salary talks created a situation where the pay of teachers (when compared to the average salary of other highly educated specialists) will fall instead of growing.

Representatives of the government and the Ministry of Education and Research emphasize that the average salary of teachers is 108 percent of the national average. However, the pay of teachers needs to be compared to the average wage of people with higher education rather than just the national average. A teacher is expected to have a master's degree.

It is widely known that the average salary of highly educated specialists is roughly 20 percent higher than the national average in Estonia. As a result of salary negotiations, a teacher in Estonia will be paid on average 10 percent less than people sporting the same education.

The minimum salary of teachers is 25 percent lower than the average wage of workers with higher education.

The international "Education at a Glance" study in 2020 puts the purchasing power of Estonian teachers and heads of schools at the very bottom in OECD and European countries, behind only Latvia. However, our southern neighbor is making efforts to value teachers and ensure them competitive salaries. This means that Estonia might easily find itself in last place by next year.

The government and the Ministry of Education and Research emphasize that teachers' salaries in Estonia have shown one of the fastest growths in OECD countries. This is an illusion. Our starting point has simply been very modest. Adding a decent percentage to what are initially very low salaries does not equal achieving strong or competitive salaries.

The salary of Estonian teachers has grown by 22 percent, while it still around 25 percent less than what teachers in other OECD countries have seen. The minimum salary of a teacher in Estonia was €958 in 2016. A hike of 37 percent added €357 (for €1,315).

If a hike of just 15 percent in another OECD country where a teacher is paid €3,000 a month (the rough average salary in Finland) added €450 to teachers' salary, which country's teachers saw their salaries grow more?

Estonians consider themselves an educated nation and ruling parties talk of education as a priority. The results of the "Education at a Glance" survey speak of something else. Estonia's education spending has grown slower than all other expenses. Spending on education in GDP lags behind the European average.

In Finland, for example, money allocated for education is also an investment. Finland does not fail to consider what could bring back economic success in the future even when times are hard today. They have realized that the answer is education and the country is contributing to education and teachers' salaries also during difficult times. The recently concluded salary negotiations proved that the Estonian governments takes a different view.

What is even more baffling today is that the parties currently in charge of our country have decided that it would be sensible to freeze teachers' salaries for four years.

If the government maintains its freeze on teachers' salaries for the next four years and throws out the previously agreed upon salary advance plan, Estonia's stellar education system and teachers as the guarantors of the country's success story must be protected, with a strike if that is what it takes.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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