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Teachers' union: We have no other choice but to strike

Reemo Voltri.
Reemo Voltri. Source: ERR

Reemo Voltri, head of the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) told "AK" that the government's proposed salary hike for next year is four times lower than teachers' recommendation, confirming a strike in January.

Over the weekend, the government was unable to find any more money for the teachers' pay increase. The minimum salary for educators is projected to increase by 3.1 percent and the average salary by 5.7 percent in the coming year. Teachers would earn an average of €2,164 per month the following year.

What are your future goals in light of this substantial salary increase?

On the contrary, this salary increase, which is four times less than what we had requested is not at all what teachers would consider satisfactory. The council will convene on December 12 to decide the exact time of the strike.

So the strike is on?

We don't have any other choice when the current administration is so dismissive of the future of our education. Year after year, qualified teachers leave the profession, and young teachers do not enter, while we have one of the world's oldest teaching forces.

This is not sustainable. It means that the quality of our education will begin to crumble very quickly. And that cannot be allowed to happen, and teachers have to stand up for education and call attention to it.

What kind of strike is coming and what should parents be prepared for?

It is up to the school to decide whether or not to open the school or the kindergarten. According to the legislation, we will notify everyone two weeks in advance about the length and timing of the strike. We will decide on December 12 whether to hold the strike in early January or to postpone it until later in the month.

It's one thing to have a wage for next year, but it's equally important to have guarantee for the next years, which is what we asked the government to do in order to reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement for the coming years. There was no positive response to that from the government.

Aren't you afraid that public opinion might turn against you if you go on strike?

Norstat polls conducted twice this autumn show that about 70 percent of society supports a teachers' strike, because Estonians want to be an educated nation and want their children to be taught by qualified teachers.

And we must stand up for the future of good education in Estonia. If there is no good education, there will be no economic growth.

What do you think of Education Minister Kristina Kallas' proposal to adopt the 5.7 percent increase in average wages currently proposed and to agree now on wage increases for the coming years?

This 5.7 percent is with a differentiation fund that does not reach all teachers. The 3.1 percent is the minimum rate that goes up and that's what teachers get when they work full time, and from there it's the additional duties. This is not enough. An Estonian teacher is a specialist with a master's degree and should be paid a salary comparable to other higher education graduates. Currently, teachers receive practically 30 percent less than other higher-educated workers. This is not sustainable.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Kristina Kersa

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