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SDE leader: Education reform would add to costs without solving teachers' pay issue

Lauri Läänemets on
Lauri Läänemets on "Otse uudistemajast". Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While Estonia's education minister has been proposing ways of reforming the education system, Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Lauri Läänemets told ERR that reforms would increase expenses instead of helping to solve the problem of teachers' wages.

Läänemets said on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" webcast that planned reforms would not help solve the problem of teachers demanding higher salaries for this year and the coming ones.

"Indeed, it has been discussed in the coalition council and the government, following the initiative of the education minister [Kristina Kallas]. And the one thing that has become clear is that it will not yield more money," Läänemets said, adding that "it is a separate issue."

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on "Aktuaalne kaamera" news Monday that in order to fulfil the coalition's promise of hiking the average wage of teachers to 120 percent of the national average salary by 2027, reforms in education are in order.

Lauri Läänemets suggested that closing a number of small schools in rural areas would not yield saving in the long run, whereas the students of such schools often come from less fortunate families. "If we go down the path of such reforms, start dialing back life in the countryside, I believe it will lead to greater state spending."

The SDE leader and Estonia's interior minister said that while no concrete reform plan has been presented, the ideas discussed would clearly not solve the problem of teachers wages.

Plan to scrap ministries' performance pay scrapped

The proposal by SDE to raise the €10 million needed to hike the minimum salary of teachers this year by canceling bonuses in ministries was voted down by coalition partners.

Läänemets added that these differences of opinion in the government do not mean SDE is planning to quit the coalition.

"What would be the point of leaving the government – there is none whatsoever," the interior minister said, adding that SDE is a much-needed counterweight in the current otherwise right-wing government. "Were SDE not in the government today, the topic of teachers' salaries would be much less prominent. I believe that the Reform Party and Eesti 200 would have tasked the education minister with doing something and been otherwise fine with strikers going on striking."

Regarding state budget strategy talks scheduled for late January, Läänemets said that SDE would have the Ministry of Finance come up with a plan of ending the practice of hiding de facto employment relationships behind using company contracts in order to pay less tax.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski

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