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Fewer than 20 children attend Mustamäe school on first day of strike

Children at school in Mustamäe.
Children at school in Mustamäe. Source: ERR

The vast majority of children at Tallinn's Mustamäe High School stayed home on Monday, the first day of a nationwide open-ended strike. While the majority of Tallinn teachers are on strike, only 20 in Narva are participating.

Usually, more than 900 children arrive at the school in Tallinn's Mustamäe district on a Monday morning, but today only 17 elementary school children arrived while the rest studied at home. Their teachers are on strike for a week over salaries.

"We have board games, drawing, then we have different reading activities /.../ and then we've got movement activities. After dinner, we will go to the hall and we will dance. /.../ We will still do a bit of learning," Kaire Pihelgas, head of education, told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

Children were still eager to attend classes.

"I quite like studying," Brigita, who is in the first grade, told AK.

"I would like to study," said Kristina, a third-grader, whose favorite subjects are art and physical education.

But teachers will be away from school until next week.

"The strike leader has informed us that our teachers will be on strike for a week. Teachers can indeed change their minds every day about whether or not to go on strike. /.../ The teachers who are not on strike are doing distance learning," said Marika Randma, school director.

On Monday, physics teacher Vello Rus explained friction to his class over the internet. He has little faith in either distance learning or the strike.

"I'm afraid the air will be let out of this strike and next week we'll all be back at work. /.../ I'm afraid (nothing) will change," he said.

Erki Õun, who has been teaching mathematics for 48 years, is not on strike. He does not consider it right to protest for wages.

"A salary is not what makes a teacher teach, it is a vocation. /.../ In my opinion, if there is to be a strike, it should be over school organization. And the teacher could have fewer of these tasks and their task should be to teach normal students who meet normal conditions in a regular class," said Õun.

Speaking on Monday's "Ringvaade", Maret Varblas, a teacher of language and literature at Tallinn's 32nd secondary school, said she is on strike because she wants society to pay more attention to the future of teachers.

"At the moment, it seems to me that we're striking over pay, but that's not the main reason. For example, one in four physics teachers is over 60. I want future teachers to know that it's a very exciting job and that young people want to come to school, " said Varblas.

But Mare Räis, a history and social studies teacher at Tallinn Läänemere High School, has decided not to participate in the strike. "We insist on things that seem to be just about wages, but the real problems are elsewhere," she said, adding if the other issues were included in the negotiating package she would have participated in the strike.

The strike has been organized by the Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EHL) which is calling for general education school teachers to be paid a minimum salary of €1,950 per month.

Close to 9,500 teachers at 330 schools across the country took part in the strike on Monday.

In Narva, approximately 20 teachers are on strike

Narva Estonian High School Source: ERR

Far fewer teachers are striking in Narva, in eastern Estonia, "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported. A total of 20 teachers are on strike in Narva and the strike will last for three days.

Municipal school teachers are bound by a collective agreement which means they cannot take part. For others, meeting Estonian language requirements is more important than a salary increase.

Narva Estonian High School has the highest number of strikers. Almost a third of public schools are on strike, but only four teachers of more than 400 at municipal schools are taking part.

The vast majority of teachers in Narva do not belong to the EHL, which organized the protest. The local trade union, which includes almost half of Narva's educators, cannot strike because a collective agreement does not allow it. 

Additionally, teachers in Narva are not so worried about the salary as about the job.

"We just have other problems – non-compliance with the qualification requirements that came into force this year. And there's not much point in fighting if you're going to be sacked, in my view," explained Yuri Afanasyev, head of the Union of Education Workers in Narva.

Teachers who meet the language requirements said they will not strike about salaries. Some of them receive higher salaries for teaching in Ida-Viru County.

"That's quite a bit more than teachers in Tallinn or Tartu, and they're well paid, here in Narva," said Irina Janoviš, acting director of Pähklimäe School in Narva.

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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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