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Public conciliator proposes 4.3 percent rise for teachers' minimum wages

Meelis Virkebau.
Meelis Virkebau. Source: ERR

The Estonian Public Conciliator has proposed two minimum pay rates for teachers, starting next year. According to the proposal, the minimum salary for qualified teachers would rise by €76 a month.

On Friday, the Estonian Public Conciliator sent made a conciliatory proposal to the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) and the Ministry of Education and Research in order to settle the congoing dispute over teachers' salaries. According to the proposal, the minimum monthly salary for general education teachers, who meet the qualification requirements for teachers would rise by €76, or 4.3 percent, to €1,825 a month in 2024.

Teachers who do not yet have a teaching qualification, would see an increase of €31 a month, or 1.77 percent, leaving them with monthly salaries of €1,780.

"As the public conciliator does not have a single million, let alone tens of millions, in his back pocket, this is the best offer possible at the moment, taking into account the interests of all parties, the funds earmarked in the state budget for teachers' salaries and the proposals made during the conciliation procedure," said Public Conciliator Meelis Virkebau.

"I understand very well that this conciliatory proposal does not fully satisfy the parties. However, unfortunately, I see no other option for resolving the dispute in the education sector. I sincerely hope that both the ministry and the union will value industrial peace. The fact that reaching agreements requires compromises from the negotiators is also underlined by the International Labor Organization (ILO)," added Virkebau.

Virkebau told ERR that they were unable to propose a bigger pay rise for teachers than the government had outlined in next year's draft budget. "And that amounts to somewhere in the region of €22 million. That's where we started from," Virkebau said.

In the draft state budget, €10 million has been earmarked for a minimum wage increase and €13.7 million to increase the teachers' salary differentiation fund to 20 percent.

"It was clear to us that teachers are more interested in an increase in the minimum wage than in the differentiation fund. In short, in the government's draft budget, the differentiation fund is 20 percent of the teachers' minimum wage and we reduced that to 17.1 percent. I know that there are no ideal solutions for both parties here, but that is what conciliation ought to presuppose, along with the fact that the parties are also prepared to compromise.

Because if we had left it as it is in the draft budget – a 1.77 percent increase in the minimum wage and an eight percent increase in the wage that workers want - then there would be no progress in labor relations," explained Virkebau.

Virkebau added that for teachers, there is a big difference between their minimum wage increasing by 1.77 percent or 4.3 percent. "There's still a much bigger increase. Unqualified teachers, of whom we also have thousands in Estonia, would see a 1.77 per cent increase in their minimum wage next year - again, this should motivate them to get a teaching qualification at the earliest opportunity. These are strong motivating factors, and in reality nothing will change here for the government," Virkebau added.

Conciliator expects response by Wednesday

The public conciliator is also inviting local government associations and private school owners to sign up to the agreement between the ministry and the union.

The public conciliator also recommends that four-way working groups be set up as soon as possible in order to agree on the objectives and a roadmap for the future in relation to teachers' qualifications and working conditions, as well as career and salary models and school networks.

"The more successful the partners are in tackling these complex and tasks, the better the chances are for subsequent collective agreements," added Virkebau. "Agreements on teachers' working conditions between the teachers' union and local authorities and their associations would undoubtedly also help to deepen mutual understanding," he said.

The public conciliator expects a response to the proposal from the Ministry of Education and Research and the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) by Wednesday, November 22 at 3 p.m.

The EHL had appealed for an 11 percent increase in the minimum wage for teachers by 2024. Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) proposed an 8 percent increase to the government. However, during state budget negotiations, only a 1.77 percent rise was agreed

Head of the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) Reemo Voltri previously told ERR that there would be no strike if the minimum wage for teachers were to rise by eight percent next year. Labor peace would also be preserved if a smaller increase were offered, accompanied by a long-term collective agreement that would guarantee pay rise levels for 2025-2027.

In 2023, the minimum monthly wage for a full-time teacher in Estonia will be €1,749, with a net salary of €1,400 a month.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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