The Minister of Education will as things stand need to explore areas where cuts can be made within their own purview, if a desire to hike teacher salaries can be met, since a loan taken by the state to that end is not realistic, Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) says.
Finance Minister Võrklaev said it it is not he who "distributes these funds, but the state's finances are in the situation they are today that every additional cost that we take on would derive from borrowed money."
"Finding the self same funds would mean that the state would have to borrow and cover fixed costs via a loan, and about four percent on top of the interest costs," he added.
"If you look back a little, to that time when the coalition agreement was created, the goal of teachers' average wages reaching 120 percent of the overall national average salary was a common goal, and at that point in time it was in the plan. The Minister of Education was of the opinion that it was viable to do things more efficiently in education and find extra funds, and since we didn't write it into the Excel file, it remained a goal - to find extra money within the system, and to move towards the 120 percent-mark with salaries, year on year," the minister went on.
Võrklaev said that when it comes to the state providing additional funds for teachers' wages, as demanded by the main teachers' union in its salary negotiations, mediated by the national conciliator, the primary question is where this money will originate.
Võrklaev was keen to stress that he too is of the opinion that teachers must be well paid.
"The Minister of Education has had time to carry this work and find the funds; I was surprised that these proposals did not come up in the state budget process," he went on.
The 2024 state budget was drawn up in September and is currently with the Riigikogu.
Võrklaev noted that after his ministry's spring forecast comes out, at the end of March/beginning of April, "we can take a look at the state budget strategy agreements, the various possible savings areas, the different tax ideas that we need to prepare for next year - and see where we are and prepare for the autumn budget process," i.e. the 2025 state budget.
Võrklaev added that the education minister, currently Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), could prepare a plan on efficiency gains with the aim of wringing out possible funds to bring to teacher pay raises.
"As I have said, to get additional funding [otherwise] would mean borrowing, but to cover the fixed costs with a loan is not reasonable," he reiterated.
The Ministry of Education, the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities (AECM), the national conciliator, and the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) failed to agree on teacher salaries last Friday, with a new offer expected by Wednesday.
Education Minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) was to seek from the coalition a mandate to negotiate a longer-term salary arrangement with the EHL.
The EHL had requested an 11 percent increase in the minimum wage for teachers by 2024. While the ministry had proposed a rise of 8 percent, the state budget negotiations conducted in September led to a mere 1.77 percent hike – a rise of €31 in monthly pay on the gross.
While the average wage for teachers stands at 111 percent of the nationwide average this year, rather than heralding a move towards the 120 percent target, the reduced pay hike will make this figure fall too.
The teachers' union held a warning strike Friday morning, ahead of school hours and in anticipation of Friday's talks and their outcome.
The prime minister had provided potential fuel for some of Estonia's many satirists at last Thursday's coalition press conference, after saying that perhaps striking teachers could advocate for a car tax, a Reform-introduced policy, in order to fund the desired pay rise. Prime minister Kallas subsequently apologized for her words via a social media post Saturday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel
Source: ERR Radio News, interviewer Indrek Kiisler