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Minister: Ball now in government's court on teacher wage rise funding source

Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200).
Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The question of finding additional funds to go towards teacher wage rises in Estonia is now with the government; an additional €10 million required cannot be found from the Ministry of Education and Research budget alone, Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) says.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Friday, the minister said: "The question now is one for the government, as to whether it is feasible to find the required €10 million for next year."

"However, I do not agree with the proposal that we should withdraw money from the differentiation fund," she went on.

According to Kallas, the teachers' proposal is currently on the table which will see €10 million needed to be found to stave off a strike and to boost the minimum wage by an additional rate.

However, Kallas said, it is no longer possible to find this sum from the Ministry of Education's budget.

The minister noted that the salaries paid to Estonian teachers are modest compared with those in many other EU countries, and are also not comparable to the wages of other employees in Estonia itself who hold a master's degree.

This, combined with high workloads and other perceived challenges is putting off capable younger people from becoming teachers, she added.

he minister said that options for change are or should be largely a matter for municipalities. "At the municipal level, this redistribution should be looked at so that there is less concrete [ie. building] and more wages. Municipalities own a large proportion of school buildings and infrastructure."

The minister had said Friday that the current level of 158 high schools (Gümnaasiumid) nationwide is too high, even as the state, as opposed to local municipalities, is pressing forwards with building new state high schools in Tallinn and in Narva.

Closing some schools would also make savings which could go towards higher teachers' pay, she said.

"First, let's look at these very, very small high schools with less than 60 students. There are quite a few of these in Estonia, and there are places for these students both at state high schools and at vocational secondary education schools. We don't really have a pressing need to run these high schools, and there are certainly teacher positions that could be reduced, where the salaries of teachers in other municipalities could be increased," he said.

The issue of teacher wage rises has led to a pre-school hours "warning strike" and an ongoing deadlock between the main teaching union and the ministry.

On Friday, the teachers' union rejected an offer from Minister Kallas of a 3 percent wage rise.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' interviewer Margus Saar.

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