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Collective agreement inked in Tartu, teachers limited to sympathy strike

A high school class participating in a nationwide e-dictation exercise at Tartu Jaan Poska High School. Photo is illustrative.
A high school class participating in a nationwide e-dictation exercise at Tartu Jaan Poska High School. Photo is illustrative. Source: Tartu Jaan Poska High School

Tartu city government and representatives of the city's education personnel on Friday signed a collective agreement for 2024, just over a week after the latter had held off on signing the deal over concerns about certain clauses. The new agreement prevents Tartu city teachers from joining the general teachers' strike next week, but will allow for them to participate in a sympathy strike.

According to the agreement, teachers in Tartu will earn a gross monthly salary of €1,803 this year, marking a raise of 3 percent on year. This matches the new monthly minimum wage the Estonian government has confirmed for teachers nationwide.

"We talk about other education personnel in the collective agreement as well," confirmed Tartu Deputy Mayor Lemmit Kaplinski (SDE). "The City of Tartu will be increasing the salaries of kindergarten teachers and other staff from the city budget. In other words, both we in the city government and our partners in the social field view the field of education as a whole."

Estonia's second biggest city is home to two different education personnel unions – and both say it's a welcome development that a compromise between the three parties involved was finally found.

"The party affiliations of Tartu city government in large part coincides with the party affiliations of the Government of the Republic, I suppose, and considering the number of votes earned in the Riigikogu, Tartu city leaders' self-confidence has also perhaps unduly grown," commented Kalle Kalda, chair of the Tartu Education Personnel Union (THL).

"We also tried to negotiate with the city government that teachers' wages would increase 5 percent – in that case we would have considered calling off the strike," said Tiiu Laan, director of the Tartu County Education Personnel Trade Union (TMHA). "But it isn't that easy. We included a clause in the agreement that if teachers' wages increase nationally, then we'll immediately open up the collective agreement and add that clause in. So there was that small breakthrough."

According to Tartu Forselius School principal Jüri Sasi, the majority of teachers at their school have decided to strike for as long as permitted by the new agreement – i.e. three days.

"If the collective agreement didn't bind the teachers, the majority of teachers would be taking part in the full-scale strike," Sasi acknowledged.

Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) chair Reemo Voltri, who is leading the nationwide teachers' strike but himself works as a teacher in Tartu, is now personally limited to participating in a sympathy strike for a maximum of three days as well.

He noted, however, that next week will nonetheless see teachers striking in Tartu as well.

"Schoolteachers will be striking Monday through Wednesday, and the rest – kindergartens and vocational schools – will be striking Thursday-Friday-Saturday in Tartu," Voltri highlighted. "So overall it'll still end up being a full week's worth of strike time in Tartu as well."

Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike will begin next Monday, January 22.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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