The nearly 25 percent increase in teachers' minimum wage to take effect from the new year is putting pressure on local governments expected to raise kindergarten teachers' minimum wage to the same extent. Led by the City of Võru, this concern has been taken all the way to the government, even as a heated debate unfolds in the Southeastern Estonian city over the possibility of having to raise monthly kindergarten fees.
Since 2017, the state has paid support to local governments for the payment of kindergarten teacher wages, but on condition that the latter aren't paid significantly less than their colleagues in schools. In other words, if they want to retain their state wage support, they need to keep up with increases in teachers' wages as well.
This tends to prove too much for local governments, however, despite calculations by the Ministry of Finance indicating an increase in local governments' revenue base.
"Many of our other obligations have also gotten drastically more expensive — 25-30 percent, 100 percent," said Võru Mayor Anti Allas (SDE). "For example, electricity and other services have gotten more expensive and will get even more expensive from the new year. All of this additional income from income tax has actually already been fixed."
According to Allas, if the state doesn't help local governments out, the City of Võru, among others, won't have enough money to increase kindergarten teachers' wages to the expected extent.
On the other side of the coin are kindergarten teachers themselves, who are perceiving unequal treatment.
"They're concerned, they're sad, they're also disappointed because we know now that it's been published in the media how much Võru kindergarten teachers' wages are increasing — by €130," Sõleke Kindergarten teacher and wage negotiator Maire Eiche said.
Such a raise doesn't satisfy kindergarten teachers, however. In order to make their voices heard, teachers from the city's four kindergartens established a wage negotiations committee, which on Tuesday presented Võru city government with two proposals for improving the current situation. One of these is to increase monthly kindergarten fees.
"The parental contribution is currently €17 a month, but considering that the minimum [monthly] wage is increasing to €725 from the new year, the parental contribution will drop to 2.4 percent, which is clearly not enough," Eiche said, noting other local governments where parental contributions to kindergarten fees equal 8, 10 or even 12 percent.
The other proposal would see families with three or more children, who have been exempt since 2006 from paying kindergarten fees, start paying them again.
In light of the current overall increase in the cost of living, however, the mayor of Võru doesn't think it's right to start raising kindergarten fees, especially considering the low average income in the region.
"People may have issues with incomes," Allas cited. "That would be quite a painful decision. But if we have no other choice and the Government of the Republic doesn't come to our aid, then we will probably have to raise [kindergarten] fees too."
Editor: Aili Vahtla