According to Estonian Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), collective negotiations with teachers can start after December 12, once local authorities have decided whether to give the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities a mandate to represent them in the talks.
"The law is very clear in stating that there are four parties to the collective negotiations - the state, local authorities, private school representatives and teachers' representatives. However, these negotiations have been going on for decades without local authorities at the table. It is as if local authorities have no role in determining teachers' pay and working conditions. However, they do have a very clear role, because they are the employers. We will not solve the education crisis any other way than by local authorities also taking on responsibility for resolving the crisis," Kallas said.
The minister that the crisis could not be solved by just the Ministry of Education and Research and teachers, as there are a number of decisions that were not taken by either of those two parties.
"Municipalities have begun to take small steps towards coming to the table and shown willingness to reach an agreement," said Kallas.
At the first meeting, few municipalities took part. On December 12, the Association of Estonian Towns and Municipalities will hold a council meeting, during which the municipalities will discuss giving the association a mandate to begin wage negotiations on their behalf. "I very much hope that this mandate will be the result of that," said Kallas.
Kallas said she understood the teachers' desire to resolve the issue sooner. "It may happen that the teachers lose patience before that and the strike begins. However, that doesn't mean that their negotiations will not go ahead. We are still going to proceed, we can no longer keep delaying, year after year, when it comes to education issues in Estonia."
Kallas said that while the local governments will make a decision regarding the mandate on December 12, the government can still give a mandate to begin negotiations, as this will also remove tensions over whether they are ready to reach a long-term agreement at all.
At Thursday's cabinet meeting, Kallas proposed beginning the negotiations with the government proposing an agreement based on specific wage increases. To do so would require €152 million from the state budget over three years, bringing teachers earnings up to 120 percent of the Estonian national average.
Union: participation of municipalities in wage negotiations not compulsory
The Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities has stated that the law gives local authorities the opportunity to participate in the collective negotiations. However, this cannot be interpreted as an obligation, and local authorities cannot take on obligations for which the state does not guarantee funding.
"The government cannot force anyone to negotiate and the law cannot force anyone to enter into an agreement. The agreement is voluntary," said Center Party leader Mihhail Kõlvart, who is also chair of the union's board.
Kõlvart said it is surprising that the government wants to shift the political confusion onto the municipalities.
"The government decided to leave out a pay rise for teachers when it was drawing up the state budget and state budget strategy, and now, when a teachers' strike is looming and problems are on the horizon, the local governments are suddenly brought in. It seems as if they are trying to create the impression that they are the reason why things are not progressing " Kõlvart said.
The municipalities say that the labor dispute ought be resolved by the Ministry of Education and Research, which is responsible for planning for an increase in teachers' pay in the state budget. Kõlvart added that the dispute is not with the municipalities, but between the ministry and the union.
The union also said that the public conciliator has confirmed the agreement on the minimum wage can be concluded without the participation of the municipalities and private school owners.
Editor: Michael Cole