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Minister offers teachers 3 percent rise, union is not accepting

Conciliation meeting on teachers' pay, December 1.
Conciliation meeting on teachers' pay, December 1. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In a Friday meeting with the teachers' union, Minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) offered a 3 percent wage increase to €1,803, drawing on €8 million from the education ministry. The government previously agreed that only education ministry resources can be used to resolve the dispute. The union chair found the proposal unacceptable, the teachers' final take it or leave it proposal will be decided tonight.

"We submitted a new compromise proposal from the Ministry of Education. We have been negotiating for two weeks, seeking for additional funds, and we have reached an agreement with the government that we can only use any additional funds found on the line from the Ministry of Education to raise teacher wages," Kristina Kallas told ERR on Friday after the meeting.

"Now we will be able to put an extra €8 million next year towards teachers' minimum salaries," Kallas said.

Earlier in June, during the extraordinary discussions on budget cuts, the ministry of education was able to save €3.4 million by reducing school renovation funds.

The possibility for further cuts the ministry identified in reducing the number of high schools in Estonia.

"By adding an additional €8 million into the minimum wage increase, the teacher salary for the next year rises to €1,803," Kallas said.

The Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EEPU) leader said: "We certainly cannot accept such a proposal that the minimum salary for educators be increased by a mere 3 percent. This is approximately four times less than what we initially asked for."

Voltri said that the union had suggested a compromise that the money earmarked for teacher pay rises in the coming period could be distributed differently.

"So that most of this money would go to the minimum rate, and the government would still understand the seriousness of the problem, so to speak, and find additional money to increase the differentiation fund, so that the total increase in teachers' salaries would be significantly more than 1.7 or 3 percent," he said.

The differentiation fund should increase to 20 percent, he said.

Kristina Kallas at the conciliation meeting on teachers' pay, December 1. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"But whether it's still our proposal at all is really up to the EEPU general meeting that we have this evening, which will decide whether the delegation, which represents the interests of our organization, is fully supported and whether this proposal is even acceptable," he said.

"The government will then have another opportunity to reconsider whether or not to accept our proposal, at which point we will know whether an agreement can be reached the following week or whether it will be impossible to do so. Following that, a protocol of disagreement will be signed, enabling us to proceed with the necessary arrangements for the strike," Voltri said.

Virkebau: I am more optimistic than this morning

National mediator Meelis Virkebau told ERR that he is optimistic after the meeting.

"What I saw today was the convergence of the social partners, as both sides offered a compromise. It is fair to say that this morning before the meeting I was not as optimistic about an agreement as I am now," he said.

"It was a productive meeting in my opinion. We were able to put forward new reconciliation proposals. On the other hand, it came out that the Ministry of Education had found an additional €8 million in the meantime for an increase in teachers' minimum salary. Also, it is encouraging that the teachers' side, the teachers' union, was willing to drop its demand for an increase in the minimum wage from 8 to 5 percent," Virkebau said.

According to the conciliator, the plan was to boost the base income of all primary and secondary school teachers by 4.3 percent in the coming year, while not increasing the differentiation fund for teachers' pay and instead keeping it at the present level of 17.1 percent.

"It has been increased to 20 percent in the budget, but from what I gather, teachers still regard the increase in the minimum wage to be more important than this support from the differentiation fund. Because it is not a support measure, strictly speaking, but rather a compensation for activities such as classroom chairing, extra classes, and so on," he said.

National mediator Meelis Virkebau. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Virkebau added that he was skeptical that Kristina Kallas was going to be successful in persuading government members to include additional funding for teachers in next year's budget, as she proposed.

"My reasoning is based on listening to what both the prime minister and the minister of finance have said about that issue. And neither has offered teachers any additional funds for next year," he said.

National conciliator: Clarity by Tuesday at the latest

Harri Taliga, deputy adviser to the national conciliator, said in a press release after the meeting that the conciliator expects the final positions of the parties to the collective bargaining dispute no later than Tuesday, December 5, as a possible agreement will require an amendment to the 2024 State Budget Act.

"If the parties reach a compromise, we will draw up a binding agreement, otherwise the conciliation procedure will end with a record of the disagreement," Virkebau said.

"In the absence of an agreement, the government will set the minimum wage for teachers at its discretion, while a protocol of disagreement will give the union the right to organize a collective pressure action," he said.

The national conciliator proposed to the union and the Ministry of Education and Research to end the collective bargaining dispute with an agreement that would raise the minimum salary for all general education teachers by €75 in 2024.

The national conciliator therefore considers it appropriate to use the entire 4.3 percent increase in teachers' pay in the national budget to raise the minimum wage, leaving the differentiation coefficient for the wage fund at the current level of 17.1 percent.

At the conciliation meeting, Minister Kristina Kallas said that the ministry will find an additional €8 million from its budget, which will make it possible to raise the minimum wage for teachers by 3.1 percent and bring it to €1,803 next year, provided that the rate of wage differentiation rises to the planned 20 percent.

The chair of the teachers' union, Voltri, considered the development positive, but said that the minimum wage should rise by at least 5 percent, which would mean an increase in the differentiation fund to 17.8 percent.

The national conciliator launched a collective bargaining procedure on the issue of the 2024 minimum salary for teachers in general education schools on October 2 on the basis of an appeal from the The Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EEPU).

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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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