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Prime Minister: Timing of teachers' strike curious

Teachers deserve to be paid more and will in the coming years, while it might be asked why have teachers decided to go on strike during a time when the state budget has already been passed and fiscal strategy deliberations will not start before June, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.

Kallas described the strike, should it go ahead on January 22, as both extremely regrettable but also the right of teachers. She said that Education Minister Kristina Kallas has done good work in trying to find money to raise teachers' salaries as they are the only public sector employees that will see higher salaries this year.

The prime minister said teachers deserve to be paid more, which is why the government has agreed to hike their pay to 120 percent of the national average by 2027.

She said that teachers already make more than the national salary in many regions in which local governments play a role. For example, Viimsi Municipality pays its teachers €520 extra, while it is €221 in Paide.

"The problem is most acute in Tallinn as the average salary is higher there while the city only adds €47 to teachers' pay. It is significant if we consider that Tallinn has a billion-euro budget (€1.26 million in fact – ed.)," Kallas said.

She was also critical of Tallinn's plan to keep paying teacher's salaries during the strike. Kaarel Rundu, head of Tallinn's Education Department, told ERR that retaining teachers' salaries for the first three days of the strike has been agreed. According to Kallas, Tallinn would be breaking the law by paying teachers who are striking to suggest the city is looking to wield teachers in its political struggle against the government.

Kallas also said that it could be asked why have teachers decided to go on strike now when the state budget has been passed and the fiscal strategy deliberations will not kick off before summer.

"Do they plan to strike until then – that is a long goal, considering that striking is an unpaid activity. There will not be a pay rise this year," she said, adding that no one has promised to hit the 120 percent of average salary target in 2024.

"We do not exist in a vacuum. The strike will not yield new revenue. The state budget only holds taxpayer money. /.../ And things are tight in those terms. We need to spend a lot on security. We need to take steps to weather tough times."

Kallas: We have nothing to offer Jüri Ratas

Regarding alleged tensions in the coalition, Kallas said that the relationship between Reform, Eesti 200 and SDE remains good.

"Everyone has to defend their territory in the media, everyone is worried about ratings, while the important thing is what we can agree on. /.../ The Reform Party recently held a board meeting and we have no desire to change the makeup of the coalition," she said.

While the Social Democrats have been making some rather forceful statements recently, Kallas said that coalition partners need to realize it is impossible to form a government without Reform.

There has been much speculation recently whether former Center Party leader Jüri Ratas also plans to quit Center. Kallas said in no uncertain terms that Reform is not interested in Ratas.

"Look, what Jüri Ratas cares about is his own future, and we have nothing to offer him," the PM said.

Kallas also said once again that she has no plan to quit as head of the Reform Party and prime minister.

"I just won the election last year and formed a government. It has not been easy and I don't want to go anywhere" she said.

Polls suggest Kallas' rating as prime minister is around 30 percent, which she described as solid support.

"The incumbent prime minister who has to make decisions is never popular. The government is forced to take unpopular decisions to benefit Estonia. Politics is not sitting in a hot bathtub, playing with rubber ducks. It is sailing against the wind in a storm," Kallas said, adding that fighting these storms tends to drag one's rating down.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski

Source: "Esimene stuudio"

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