Three-quarters of all schools and kindergartens in Estonia are participating in the warning strike that kicked off at 8 a.m. Friday, Reemo Voltri, head of the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) told Vikerraadio.
Voltri said that participation may be somewhat lower in rural areas where teachers receive above the local average salary and in Ida-Viru County where teachers are already paid more than elsewhere in Estonia.
The union chair warned that any efforts to prevent the warning strike would be illegal, adding there are signs to suggest some Reform Party municipality elders have tried to take forceful steps to prevent the strike action.
Voltri referred to the government's attitude toward the strike as ignorant. "We are promised salary advance before elections and again in the coalition agreement following elections, but when the time comes, all we get is an "oops!" he said.
The sides to the teachers' salary dispute are scheduled to meet in Tartu on Friday. The EHL representative said that should Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) fail to produce anything more than the 1.7 percent hike the government has offered so far, he hopes the public conciliator will wrap up conciliation proceedings and the teachers will get the right to go on a full strike.
He added that teachers will need to give two weeks notice, and that the strike could start in early December.
In terms of how likely he holds the strike, Voltri said he would be surprised if the government took any steps toward a compromise.
Two-thirds of people in Estonia approve of the strike
A recent poll by NGO Institute for Societal Studies and Norstat reveals that 69 percent of people support teachers going on strike.
Looking at party preferences, 81 percent of Center Party voters support the strike, which is 80 percent for Isamaa backers, 79 percent for those of the Social Democratic Party, 77 percent EKRE and 61 percent for Eesti 200 voters. Supporters of the ruling Reform Party are split, with 44 percent opposing the strike and 43 percent approving.
Teachers are after an 8-percent salary hike next year. The EHL wants a collective agreement signed and entered into the state budget strategy (RES).
The EHL has said that it can keep a potential strike going for several weeks. "Teachers have indicated that going on strike for anything less than a week would be pointless. We seem to be left with no other option than a termless strike to force the government to stick to agreements and prevent the destruction of education in Estonia," Voltri has said in a past interview.
The union said on November 3 that because the government was stalling salary negotiations and had failed to propose a plan for honoring its obligations, a nationwide teachers' warning strike will be held for a few hours on Friday morning.
Editor: Marcus Turovski