Although disagreements between government partners prevented an agreement being reached regarding teachers' salaries on Thursday, Estonian Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) does not believe it will lead to the collapse of the ruling coalition.
"At the moment, I don't see that these disagreements will lead to a break-up of the coalition. When we start discussing the state budget strategy (RES), it remains to be seen whether we will reach a political agreement. However, in a situation where we cannot deliver on the promises we have made to teachers, we cannot run the country," said the education minister on ETV show "Terevisioon."
Kallas admitted that there had been no political agreement among the government on the issue of teachers' pay rises, as there were disagreements regarding whether the best approach was to make a joint effort together or to simply admit that there are currently insufficient no funds to implement a pay rise.
"I am very much of the opinion that the state has to cut costs. And all the ministers have made an effort. However, the Ministry of Education and Research has already cut €16 million this year. That's the same amount as if we sacked all the ministry staff. More than half of this cut went to cover teachers' salaries and the rest to improve positions in the state budget."
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who also leads the Reform Party, has said teacher pay rises could be implemented if the money comes from within the Ministry of Education and Research itself. Kristina Kallas however, does not think this is possible.
"I don't see that we can make any further cuts on top of the €16 million we have already cut. That could only come from the money for higher education. However, that would only solve a problem in one place while creating more in another, and that doesn't make sense."
The education minister pointed out that a very large part of Estonia's GDP is spent on education. That money however, is not in the ministry's budget, but in the budgets of local authorities. This is why, according to Kristina Kallas, it is important for the state to reach an agreement with the municipalities on school reforms.
"In comparison to other European countries, we have too many upper secondary schools per pupil. However, these reforms take a long term perspective – they won't bring about immediate benefits this year or next. That is why we need to look for, and find, other solutions," Kristina Kallas said.
The education minister admitted that on Thursday, she was left with the feeling that the issue had been dropped due to disagreements between coalition partners and that the teachers' strike would therefore go ahead on Monday. However, it will be discussed again at the Coalition Council on Monday, while Kristina Kallas herself will also renegotiate with teachers.
"As long as there is a labor dispute, there is a need to negotiate," the education minister said.
She added that teachers are well aware of the consequences of the strike for children's education and also the impact it might have on the next generation of teachers.
"It's not the sort of positive thing that makes young people think, 'Let's go to school and become teachers now.' We have to make an effort to avoid this kind of industrial action in education."
However, Kristina Kallas also sees the current crisis as an opportunity to start work on tackling the real problems in education, or in other words, the reasons why teachers are actually going on strike.
Editor: Michael Cole