Interior Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Lauri Läänemets told "Otse uudistemajast" podcast that he will go to the cabinet meeting tomorrow, Thursday, to negotiate pay increases to teachers, police and rescue workers.
Läänemets said that he expects Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) to propose to the government on Thursday, and the Social Democrats to approve, a raise in teachers' pay to the extent sought by teachers.
"She will make the proposal to the government, and the SDE will support it," Läänemets said.
He stressed that, because this is a labor dispute, the government is required by law to make its own proposal to educators. "We have to deal with it, and we have to make this proposal to teachers. The government's primary priority should be to prevent a strike. Strike action affects the lives of many people and businesses and it is a new blow to the economy," he said.
Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev (Reform) and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) have both said that the €140 million for teacher pay increases simply is not there.
"We stand by our position that teacher salary must go up and the salaries of rescuers and police officers must also increase," Läänemets said.
If the Reform Party maintains its negative stance, he said, there will only be more disputes. He said he hopes for the Reform Party to reconsider its stance on this issue. "If we don't have that position now, we'll get there eventually and I think we will get there," Läänemets said.
"I have no doubt that we can agree on this. Maybe it won't happen tomorrow, maybe it will take a week or two, but I think that decision will come in the end," he said.
The minister said that the Social Democrats are ready to stand up for their principles even in opposition, he did not believe that the party should enter opposition at this time.
Läänemets stressed that raising the salaries of teachers, rescuers and police officers is a question of will.
He also reiterated the position of the Social Democrats that they do not support tax increases of this magnitude, nor do they support the Reform Party's main election promise to abolish the tax hike, i.e. to raise the tax-free income rate for all.
"Yesterday I had a meeting with the rescue workers' and police officers' unions. They also want a pay rise, and they asked me to send one message to the government – the police and rescue workers do not want the tax hike to be abolished, they want a pay rise with the abolition of the tax hike," he said.
At the same time, Läänemets said that the abolition of the tax hike has received a mandate from the people.
"Of course, we would be happy if this happened (the abolition of the tax hike - ed.), but we are in coalition with the Reform Party and Eesti 200 and we have agreed on this and we will implement the agreement," he said.
The cost of abolishing the tax hump, i.e. raising the tax-free rate for everyone, is €400 million a year.
In September, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced that the government plans to leave an empty budget line in the 2025 tax revenues without a specific tax category, which is also expected to amount to €400 million.
"As far as the salaries of teachers, rescuers and policemen are concerned, as well as the overall state of public finances, the government has reached an agreement that the finance minister will present solutions for addressing the tax adjustments outlined in the budget strategy either this week or the following," Läänemets said.
He also said that the government should be more flexible in its decisions. "The government needs to be more flexible. We made a coalition agreement in the spring and we kept to it, but now we see the changes and in the ratings – people are giving to the governing parties feedback through the ratings – there is a message to be more flexible," the minister said.
"Teacher pay is not Kristina Kallas' personal concern; teacher pay is a personal concern for all of Estonia," he said.
At the same time, Läänemets did not consider it necessary to review the agreement. "I am talking about flexibility. The teacher pay issue does not require the opening of a coalition agreement," he said.
"Today's government should be concerned with the economy, teacher salaries, and education, which is the foundation of the economy in any case. It is up to the government to send the message that this is where society needs to go, where there are opportunities, and where individuals and entrepreneurs can have confidence," he added.
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa