The national conciliator on Monday took over the salary dispute between teachers and the Ministry of Education and will try to find a solution to prevent a strike, the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) said.
The authority will first meet with each party separately.
Reemo Voltri, who heads the union that represents almost 30,000 teachers, said the situation should have taken this turn. He said teachers' low salaries endanger the basic functioning of the state and it is incomprehensible that the government allowed this to happen.
"Estonia's teachers are understanding and flexible, and we have come up with a number of solutions to get there in even steps over four years. Let's hope common sense wins. But if the government is still going to break its word, we will probably have to strike to raise awareness of the education crisis," said Voltri.
Political parties in the run-up to the election in March all promised to raise teachers' salaries, he said.
"In the coalition agreement, it was agreed in black and white that teachers' salaries should be normalized in this way. This is an absolute minimum – otherwise, we will continue to lose several hundred qualified teachers a year, no new ones will be recruited, and half of them will soon be gone," said Voltri.
The union leader told ERR that education workers want to believe the government wants to find a compromise, but they are not completely confident.
Voltri said one compromise could be raising salaries to the desired level gradually over the coming years if it is not possible in 2024.
"But, if we were to move towards strike action, it would not be before November 15," added Voltri.
EHL asked for an 11 percent pay rise for teachers' basic salary in 2024, while the Ministry of Education and Research offered 8 percent. During budget negotiations, this fell to 1.77 percent or €31 a month.
The minimum wage of a full-time Estonian teacher is €1,749 in 2023, the net salary is €1,400 euros.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright