Teachers' raises were on the agenda of Monday's coalition council meeting, however the leaders of Estonia's three ruling parties failed to settle on either this year's wage increase or a long-term wage agreement. As a nationwide teachers' strike looms, the minister of education says the government has until the end of the week to reach an agreement.
Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) on Monday once again sought coalition approval for, among other things, achieving a long-term agreement with teachers that would detail how teachers' monthly wages would be increased in the years 2025-2027.
"That we'd reach 120 percent of the Estonian average [wage] by 2027," she explained. "In stages, with the average increasing 10 percent in 2025, and 6 percent a year thereafter."
Following Monday's meeting, however, Kallas told ERR that no agreement was reached, with discussions revolving around two points: how to resolve this year's wage dispute, and a long-term wage agreement.
The Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) initially wanted teachers' minimum monthly wage to be increased to €1,950, which would have meant €46 million in additional costs for the state budget.
The union's offered a compromise of €1,835, which would incur €10 million in additional state budget costs; the compromise proposal also included the requirement to immediately begin collective bargaining regarding the next three years.
"Now that compromise agreement has been submitted, but in this case it's the other half – the conclusion of a long-term education agreement," the minister said. "And we very clearly disagreed within the coalition regarding whether it's possible for us to come to an agreement regarding one point or the other – whether it's possible for us to reach an agreement in the 2024 wage dispute or whether it's possible for us to agree that we'll begin collective agreement negotiations."
She said that she had proposed launching collective agreement talks regarding 2025-2027 wages, however this requires a government mandate.
"I can't hold collective agreement negotiations without concrete wage support numbers," Kallas stressed. "That's where we disagree. I don't think this is the right direction; in fact, [we] should still be signaling to teachers that it will be possible to reach an agreement in the next few years as well regarding what the increase in the state's salary support for teachers will be, and how we'll measure teachers' workloads in the future, and what teachers' actual salary model is."
Negotiations to continue up to last minute
According to Kallas, talks with the EHL will continue this week, and they will keep seeking a solution right up to the last minute – meaning Sunday, as Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike is slated to begin next Monday, January 22.
"We actually have until Sunday, so we will steadfastly continue [to negotiate]," she said.
The education minister said that negotiations will continue while teachers are on strike as well, as the strike will also force everyone back to the negotiating table, legally speaking.
"We already have a meeting with the EHL set for January 22, the first day of the strike," she noted. "So we'll be taking a seat at the [negotiating] table again, and I suppose I have to sit down with them again today after the coalition council meeting too."
According to the minister, her goal is still to sign a long-term agreement, which would ensure good labor relations for a longer period than just ten months.
Kallas and EHL chair Reemo Voltri likewise met Monday at a meeting of the Riigikogu's Cultural Affairs Committee.
Committee chair MP Heljo Pikhof (SDE) said that the Cultural Affairs Committee obtained assurances at its meeting that both the minister of education and the EHL are motivated to find a solution and reach an agreement.
"We saw at the meeting that the desire to reach a deal is there," Pikhof said.
Voltri said that it's still not too late to cancel the atrike or call it off if education workers gain confidence that a plan is in place for increasing the minimum wage through a collective agreement for the next several years, and that this cannot be changed unilaterally.
He stressed that promises alone are not enough, but noted that they have seven days to work on this, and that finding the additional money needed to increase Estonian teachers' wages and reaching an agreement shouldn't be impossible.
The union chief confirmed that the majority of teachers believe that it's important to first achieve a minimum wage increase, and thereafter address the teacher career model issue.
He added that he believes they'll be able to reach a reasonable agreement regarding the latter as well.
Editor: Aili Vahtla