Negotiations on teachers' pay in Estonia are due to resume in a week's time. Representatives of local authorities are among those who have been invited to participate in the talks, without which no compromise or collective agreement, on teacher pay rise levels for the next four years will be reached.
On Thursday, Estonia's teachers were backed by several unions and professional associations at a protest held in front of the Riigikogu. Among those showing their support were the country's rescue workers, who are set to miss out on their own pay rise next year.
"We believe everyone needs teachers. Rescuer workers also need them, in fact all of Estonia needs them. After all, we too can only achieve results in our work thanks to our education," said Kalle Koop, head of the Estonian Rescue Workers' Association (Päästeala töötajate ametiühing).
Teachers are currently demanding an eight percent pay rise next year. However, they are willing to accept a smaller increase if a collective agreement is reached to raise wages step by step over a four-year period. Doing so would bring teachers' pay up to 120 percent of the Estonian average by 2027, a plan, which has been agreed to in principle by Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200). To achieve this, the differentiation fund provided to different municipalities will also need to be gradually increased.
"We will need to increase this wage fund each time. Next year, 2024, it will increase by 4.3 percent. And here, there is also a desire for this 4.3 percent to actually reach teachers' salaries, that teachers' wages actually increase by 4.3 percent, not 1.7 percent. Not just the minimum salary, but the entire wage fund. In the same way, we need to increase the level of support for the wage fund in 2025, 2026 and 2027. These are the three years for which we would like to conclude this collective agreement," Kallas said.
This type of compromise also requires agreement from local authorities, who are now involved in the negotiations. In the past, they have not been.
"Now, the law states that they should be involved. They say they cannot. The question here for the lawyers is perhaps, how we can still get all the parties to be genuinely interested and to want to participate and take responsibility, because at the moment they are being paid by the state and they are supposed to pass that on to the teachers. Why they can't be part of the negotiation process is beyond me," said Reemo Voltri, head of the Estonian Education Personnel Union.
According to Minister of Education Kristina Kallas, there are two potential ways in which local authorities could be involved in the talks. Either all 79 municipalities attend and sign the agreement themselves, or they authorize the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities to represent them. However, up to now, none of the municipalities have given the union a mandate to act on their behalf during the talks.
"There is still a legal issue here as well as a substantive one. We can't see inside every municipality's council, or their wishes and how they see the process," said Veikko Luhalaid, head of the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities.
"Do they want to be the negotiators themselves , or [do they want] the City of Tallinn for example, which is certainly a more capable negotiator than the union? On the other hand, some smaller municipalities might agree. There is probably no simple solution here from a legal perspective either. If, for example, we get a mandate from half of the municipalities, do we represent all of them? Right now, I cannot say," he said.
According to the union, when it comes to the issue of teachers' salaries, the role of local authorities is as mediators, who pay out salaries from state funds.
On November 2, the education minister, along with representatives of the Estonian Education Personnel Union and the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities will join the talks on teachers' salaries as observers, rather than negotiators.
Editor: Michael Cole
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera