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Latvian teachers' protests bear fruit, but new unpopular change still ahead

Schoolchildren leaving a school in Latvia. Photo is illustrative.
Schoolchildren leaving a school in Latvia. Photo is illustrative. Source: Aija Kinca/LTV

Following education workers' strikes and protests, Latvian teachers' monthly minimum wage was increased to €1,374. This fall, however, the Latvian government plans on implementing new school funding principles that likewise have plenty of opponents.

Compared with their Latvian counterparts, teachers in Estonia earn a good living, as they make over €400 more a month than their southern counterparts. This is despite the fact that teachers' wages in Latvia have gone up and kindergarten teachers' wages matched to equal those of schoolteachers following union protests.

As of this year, both school and elementary school teachers' minimum wage was increased to €9.54 an hour, which with a 36-hour schoolteacher workweek translates to €1,374 a month. In Estonia, teachers' minimum wage, as is well known, is €1,803.

In Latvia, kindergarten teachers have a 40-hour workweek, and thus are now earning a minimum of €1,526 a month.

All parties still remember the education workers' protest in Riga's Dome Square last spring, especially then-prime minister Krišjanis Karinš, who grew increasingly sullen with each successive speech.

However, in Latvia, the education workers' union – the Latvian Education and Science Workers' Union (LIZDA) – and the government are constantly discussing things, and on paper at least, education is one of the Latvian government's priorities this year.

"During the strike, the unions had two demands – that the government approve the teachers' salary increase schedule, which is also required by our Education Law, and the other goal was to reduce pedagogues' workloads," said LIZDA chair Inga Vanaga.

"The government approved the salary schedule, and thus one demand has been met," she acknowledged. "But our other wish, to balance the workload within three years' time, is still just in its early stages."

The union chair confirmed to ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne Kaamera" that the Latvians support their Estonian colleagues.

In addition to wage and school network reforms, discussions in Latvia have also been held at the head of state level regarding students' deepening behavioral problems, for example.

"Reducing violence in educational institutions is on the agenda – how to create a safe school environment for students, teachers and other school employees alike," Vanaga noted. "Unfortunately, our ministry resolves these issues very halfheartedly. So the Latvian president got involved already."

Latvian Minister for Education and Science Anda Ćakša recently unveiled a new school funding model that will strip local governments of the opportunity to maintain smaller schools at the expense of bigger ones starting this fall.

"Currently we're seeing that each child can mean major changes in a school," Ćakša said. "Now we're implementing optimal class sizes and turnaround time for changes so that the work of educational institutions can be both planned as well as planned in advance. There are going to be small, big and medium-sized classes."

Under the new plan, the state will start paying based on the so-called optimal class size criteria, which should raise Latvian teachers' minimum monthly wage to €1,648. However, if a class has fewer than 16 students, for example, the state intends to pick up only half the tab, with the rest left up to the local government to cover.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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