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Union leader: Government arrogance increases the number of strikers

The warning strike at Kiili High School, Harju County.
The warning strike at Kiili High School, Harju County. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The number of education workers planning to join the strike on Monday is growing every day due to the government's arrogant attitude, said Reemo Voltri, head of the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL), on Friday.

On Thursday, the government failed to reach an agreement about raising teachers' salaries which means educators will start an open-ended strike on Monday (January 22).

Voltri told ERR the government has not given any assurances about the future of Estonian education.

"I understand, and the teachers understand, that one of the parties – the government, the Reform Party – is adamant that there is no need to preserve education in Estonia, and that the Estonian economy and Estonia's security must be undermined in doing so, and they are moving forward on that path. Consequently, all the plans are in place and we are going ahead with exactly those plans as we have them in place so far," he said Voltri, talking about the strike.

He said he hoped something could change over the weekend and a union meeting could be held on Sunday if necessary. If a new offer has been made by the government it can be discussed by union leaders.

"But if it's not, then I'll call off this meeting and we'll go ahead with the longest teachers' strike in terms of time. Up to now, it's been one to three days, and now certainly, if there's still no agreement, we're going to have the longest strike. Then this government and the head of government can at least go down in history for this," Voltri said.

Reemo Voltri. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

More and more institutions have said they will participate in the strike, the total number of schools will likely be known on Friday. Kindergartens and vocational education can also join the support strike starting on Wednesday (January 22), and more may join if no offer is made before then.

"Rather, this arrogance on the part of the government will still increase the number of strikers, not decrease it," he said.

Voltri said the strike has no end date and there are signals teachers are willing to participate for longer than three days.

Asked what happens if the strike lasts for three months, the union head said he does not think the government is willing to damage education for such a long time.

All parties have said the €10 million needed to raise salaries in 2024 is not such a large amount of money to cause such a big division in society, Voltri added.

He said it may have become a question of principle for the government, and the coalition is relying on the fact that teachers are "responsible people" who will end the strike to do the right thing.

The warning strike at Kiili High School, Harju County. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

"The Estonian teacher does not want to go on strike, we are actually very concerned and we are not striking against anything only for Estonian education," he said.

Voltri added that the teachers' union's decision that Estonian education must not be damaged in this way is very strong, and that is why so many institutions and teachers are participating.

A strike is not something that happens every day in Estonia, and it shows how desperate teachers are, he said.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said on Thursday that additional money for teachers' salaries should be found within the Ministry of Education and not taken from other areas.

Minister of Education Minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) does not agree and says the only way to do this would be to take money away from higher education.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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