Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that she cannot promise teachers, threatening to go on strike if their salaries fail to go up, more money before the coalition starts deliberating on next year's state budget and state budget strategy in August 2024.
"It will not make more money appear," Kallas said when asked at Thursday's government press conference whether this Friday's teachers' warning strike or the planned full strike might change the government's stance. "If, while striking, they can go around convincing people to back the car tax or agree to higher tax rates therein, then we would find the means with which to hike teachers' pay even more," the PM added.
Kallas admitted that while the coalition agreement includes raising the pay of teachers to 120 percent of the national average by 2027, whether this can be achieved depends on public finances.
"Whether we can achieve that depends on our fiscal situation, to what extent we will be able to create additional income from taxes and what the forecasts will be," she said.
Kallas pointed out that the state budget strategy (RES) often makes no mention of salary hikes, while those of rescue workers were hiked by 36 percent and those of teachers by 24 percent regardless last year.
The premier also emphasized that the abolition of the so-called tax hump, Estonia's current gradual basic exemption reduction, will see the money teachers and other salaried workers take home grow substantially in 2025, adding that teachers are also the only public sector workers to see a wage hike (1.7 percent) next year.
"I told education workers (during a meeting with union representatives – ed.) that I have two options – I can either be honest or vie for popularity and make promises I know I cannot keep. I cannot give any guarantee as to wage hike figures today. Because we will be discussing these things in August, as part of the state budget strategy. It is, therefore, impossible for the government to make any promises before August! "The strike can go ahead, but allow me to just say that teachers saw their wages rise by 24 percent last year, which is not a figure the rest of society experienced," she remarked.
The prime minister said that the teachers' salary pot amounts to €561.9 million, while Estonia's total education budget is €1.5 billion, which is more than the European average in relative terms.
"What I would concentrate on is reorganizing the school network in which lies the true potential for solving the problem of overburdened teachers and freeing up resources we could spend on a pay rise," Kallas said. "But this requires reforms from the Ministry of Education and Research to create these resources, which will not happen this month or the next. It requires cooperation between local governments, schools and the ministry, and preparation."
The Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) plans to hold an hour-long so-called warning strike this Friday morning, which is bound to disrupt parents' schedules as they will have to send their children to school or kindergarten an hour later. Teachers in Estonia want a collective agreement that would see their salaries rise to 120 percent of the national average by 2027 and have threatened to go on prolonged strike should their demands be ignored.
Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski