Estonian Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) should be able to find the €14 million requires to raise teachers' salaries from the ministry's budget, said former education minister Liina Kersna (Reform). According to Kersna, the draft state budget could still be amended next week in order to preserve industrial peace.
Kersna told ERR radio that the state's duty is clearly to prevent teachers from going on strike, as every child has a constitutional right to education. If teachers have to go on strike, then children's constitutional rights are not guaranteed, she said.
"Therefore, I think it is really important that a compromise is found with the teachers. If this compromise implies that, for example, within the education sector, next year's budget has to be reorganized, then surely it is worth it," Kersna said.
"The government is likely to tie next year's state budget to the issue of confidence in the government. That means there will be time in the next week to make revisions to the 2024 budget in order to seek a compromise with teachers. I see that as a possibility," she added.
Kersna pointed out that in order to increase average teacher salaries next year, or to raise them to 112 percent of the national average, €13.6 million would needed to be injected from the state budget.
"Considering the size of the Ministry of Education's budget, it would not be an impossible task to find €13.6 million to prevent a strike. When I was education minister, my aim was to bring teachers' salaries up to the national average, and to do that I had to find almost €10 million from the sector. And I did find it," said Kersna.
She stressed that the Ministry of Education has a large big budget, and if raising teachers' salaries is a priority, then it will certainly be possible to find money to do so from within the sector.
"I was able to speak from my own experience. My experience told me that it is not impossible, and especially in a situation where this money could prevent a teachers' strike, I don't think it would be too much effort," Kersna said.
"I fully understand that the current Minister of Education and Research has the ambition of moving the sector towards thinking about longer-term change, and that is all very important. However, in order to make structural reforms in the sector, the first step is to ensure industrial peace. And in order to ensure industrial peace in the sector, it is necessary to prevent a strike. To prevent a strike, it is necessary to reach an agreement with the teachers," Kersna added.
Kersna: Government cannot make long-term promises at this time
At the same time, however, Kersna believes that the long-term pay rise for teachers, as outlined in the state budget strategy, cannot be promised by the current government.
"The education sector is in a very special situation in that the state budget strategy already includes a 15 percent annual increase in funding for higher education. It has also been agreed in the state budget strategy that one percent of gross domestic product (GDP) will be allocated to research and development. So, in the field of education, unlike in other areas, there are already binding agreements in the state budget strategy," Kersna said.
She added that it is every education minister's dream to have a salary increase for teachers agreed in the state budget strategy. "I too went into the government with exactly the same tables and proposed making this a reality for teachers in the state budget strategy. Up to now, this has not been done. Which does not mean the education minister can continue to apply it and justify why it is important," said Kersna.
"I also think it is important, but it cannot be done at the moment, in November 2023. The state budget strategy process is linked to the economic forecast. Today, the government really cannot make promises for 2025 and beyond," Kersna added.
The Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) wants an 11 percent pay rise for teachers next year, but has said that even an eight percent rise would be enough to ensure industrial peace. It is still possible for educational workers to oppose the government and agree to accept a lower pay rise next year. However, this would require them to reach a collective agreement on raising teachers' pay to 120 percent of the Estonian average over the coming years.
Last week, the Estonian Public Conciliator proposed raising the minimum pay rate by 4.3 percent for qualified teachers and 1.77 percent for unqualified teachers. However, according to EHL chief Reemo Voltri, the union does not agree with that proposal. The public conciliator can now respond with a new proposal.
Editor: Michael Cole