The Estonian government plans to add an extra €8 million to the draft state budget in order to raise the minimum wage for teachers. However, as this will not bring teachers a minimum pay rise of more than three percent, they are still likely to opt to strike.
"This week, the budget will have its second reading in the Riigikogu. The Ministry of Education ministry has found an extra €8 million for teachers' pay rises. We will make the relevant decisions in the e-session today, because the matter is urgent. The materials ought to reach the Riigikogu on Monday, in order for the state budget to be adopted this week," Estonian Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) told ERR.
"Thanks to the extra €8 million, the government has now budgeted €33 million for teachers' salaries in the state budget. If you look at the other priorities of the state budget and add €27 million for Estonian-language education, that adds up to an additional €60 million, which shows that education is one of the government's priorities and one of the areas receiving the most money, along with defense," Võrklaev said.
Teachers, however, would like to see a five percent increase in their minimum wage.
"Every additional million in the state budget means an increase in taxes," said Võrklaev. "However, the Estonian people have expressed that the limit for tax increases has already been mostly reached. If we take on some extra expenditure, we cannot do that knowing that we are borrowing for it," said Võrklaev.
"It is not only appropriate to talk about a minimum salary for teachers, but also about a differentiation fund, which gives school principals the possibility to pay teachers a premium depending on their qualifications, for example. We will increase this to 20 percent," said Võrklaev. "There is really no reason to strike," he added.
Voltri: Government's three percent offer will lead to a strike
"If the minimum wage for teachers is increasing by almost four times less than we originally asked for - we wanted teachers' pay to start from the projected national average wage of €1,950, which means we asked for an 11.5 percent pay increase - and if the proposed minimum wage increase is three percent, then teachers cannot accept this offer," said Reemo Voltri, head of the Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EEPU).
"In that case, there will be a meeting of the council of the teachers' union on December 12 to decide on both the time and form of the strike," Voltri added.
However, Voltri also said that if the money to increase the differentiation fund is used to raise teachers' minimum wages, by five percent for example, the teachers' union could discuss the possibility of refraining from going on strike.
"But otherwise there is no way to guarantee industrial peace and so, we will have to strike. If we continue along this path of not getting more qualified teachers, then Estonia will fall in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test. The quality of our education will suffer if the government continues to act in this way," Voltri said.
In his view, increasing the differentiation fund would not be the right way to go about things, as the money does not always reach the schools or teachers who need it most,
"This money is allocated to local authorities, but whether and to what extent it then reaches individual teachers is [unknown], because local authorities can also use this money to hire more teachers or support specialists. There is no guarantee that this additional money will reach the specific schools and the specific teachers," Voltri explained.
On Friday, during a meeting with EEPU representatives, Minister of Education Kristina Kallas put forward a proposal to allocate €8 million in state funds to provide a pay rise for teachers. Doing so would raise teachers' minimum salary by three percent to €1,803 per month.
Voltri said the offer was unlikely to be accepted, but that the union's council would discuss the issue. Estonian Public Conciliator Meelis Virkebau after Friday's meeting, that he was optimistic about the situation.
Editor: Michael Cole