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Coalition fails to agree on teachers' salaries

The coalition failed once again to agree on salary increases for teachers at a meeting on Monday. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) reiterated the education ministry must find the money, while Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said tax rises are needed.

Läänemets told ERR his party had suggested several funding sources, but while Reform refuses to make concessions, the issue will not be resolved.

"It's not a substantive question, if you want you can put endless problems on the table as to why you can't do one thing or another. In a week's time, we will be discussing how we can find €1 billion in the national budget strategy and today we cannot find €10 million. We can do a billion, but we can't do €10 million? We have to start taking things seriously, then solutions will come," Läänemets said.

The minister said the strike is the final phase of the failed negotiations and it must be taken seriously. 

"The question here is what kind of society we want – one that is cohesive and strong, or one where the government is not interested in anyone's problem or plight. The stronger society is, the stronger its security is," said Läänemets.

If the strike collapses and the government does not reach an agreement, it will cause great social disappointment, which will tear society apart, the interior minister added. "There are winners only across the border," he added.

SDE leader and Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

SDE suggested the money could be found in ministries' bonus packages. "I will bring the issue of the salaries of policemen and rescuers to this government," Läänemets said.

"A country cannot be run with an Excel spreadsheet to see whether it comes together or not. There are plenty of places to take the money from: we could tax the wealthy a lot more, but it takes will," the minister said.

Blame is being put solely on the minister of education, but the government is responsible and this responsibility is shared, Läänemets added.

Kallas: We all made funding decisions together

After the meeting, Kallas doubled down on her previous statements saying the Ministry of Education must find the money itself.

The prime minister said the problem is broader than simply finding the €10 million needed to raise teachers' salaries in 2024.

"It is not 10 million, but much larger sums over four years. Just as we have promised in the coalition agreement that by 2027 the minimum wage for teachers would be 120 percent of the Estonian average, by then these reforms will have to be made," said Kallas.

Teachers protesting on Toompea Hill in Tallinn on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

She added the majority of problems connected with strikes are being blamed on her. "It is unfortunate because the government is a collective body and together we agreed on the coalition agreement and the budget.," the prime minister said.

"Now I am alone in defending these decisions. Reforms can be made by the Ministry of Education, but in nine months none have reached the coalition. Additionally, the concerns that teachers are raising – the workload, the career model – all these are things that we are expecting from the Ministry of Education, they cannot be proposed by the prime minister, that is why we have agreements on the distribution of ministries," said the prime minister.

Kallas added that on January 30, the government will start discussing the €400 million shortfall in the state budget strategy. "We can't take on new expenses if we don't have complete clarity on the revenue side," she stressed.

When asked if society can continue to function in the event of a long strike, Kallas said that she could not say.

"Estonia has no experience of strikes, so it will be a test to see how it goes. In order to negotiate with the education sector, we should talk about concrete reforms, where to go in four years," the prime minister added.

Kristina Kallas at the teachers' protest on Toompea Hill in Tallinn on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024. Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Kristina Kallas: Teachers' compromise proposal should be accepted

"We do not have an agreement. The Reform Party talks about educational reforms, they are happening and they are in the works, but they are very long-term, it takes three years to get results. But that does not solve why teachers are on strike today, they are on strike about the minimum wage for this year. And we have no agreement on that," Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) told ERR on Monday afternoon.

Today she will meet with the EHL, who are offering to start long-term negotiations which would include local governments.

"It would be sensible for us to agree on a compromise with teachers for this year, as they have requested, and then go on to discuss a longer-term plan. This would temporarily bring peace back to the education sector. So that we don't have to negotiate with the teachers on the streets and the government sitting in their offices," Kallas said.

Võrklaev: €10 million income from the Minister of Education

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) also said the money needs to be found in the education sector. He said other ministries were not willing to hand over their funding.

"Läänemets said that we could cut a percentage of the ministries' operating costs, but I said we would do it in such a way that in the autumn, in the process of the national budget strategy, we would not ask for this money and more back. Läänemets was not willing to go along with that," he said.

Mart Võrklaev (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Võrklaev also criticized the Minister of Education for not having made reforms. "The Minister of Education can find this 10 million from its budget," he said.

Teachers started an open-ended nationwide strike on Monday. A protest also took place outside the Riigikogu. On Wednesday, teachers in Tartu will also hold a protest.

The strike is organized by the Estonian Educational Personnel Union ( EHL) which is organizing the strike, Estonia's biggest teaching union. It is calling for general education school teachers to be paid a minimum salary of €1,950 per month.

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Editor: Mari Peegel, Madis Hindre, Helen Wright

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