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Teachers' union chief: Strike to continue next week

Protest meeting in support of the teachers' strike in Tartu.
Protest meeting in support of the teachers' strike in Tartu.

Due to a lack of progress in negotiations, an unprecedented nationwide teachers' strike in Estonia, ending its first week, will continue into next week, the head of the main teachers' union says.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Thursday, Reemo Voltri (pictured), chief of the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL), said of the latest developments that: "We were a bit more optimistic than it has turned out to be."

"We had really hoped that the government would surely find a solution today, to enable us to call off the strike and move forward together without a strike situation, and with a longer term and collective agreement discussions for the coming years. But, alas, this did not transpire. So we will be continuing with the strike, unfortunately," Voltri went on.

The strike continues to receive a wide degree of support from the general public, Voltri claimed.

"We continually receive statements of support from ordinary people, other trade unions, representatives of other professions, so we are really happy to see the Estonian people believe in education and are supporting us in every way in our legitimate expectations and justified demands," he said.

"We really hope that we can still reach a solution in the coming weeks and we don't have to continue with this strike," he added.

On this, Voltri said one problem was ascertaining if the government is actually searching for a compromise, or is just applying spin in its statements.

The strike began on Monday following weeks of stalemate on the issue of teacher wage hikes.

It affects most municipality-run schools, which make up the bulk of schools in Estonia, plus some state-run schools (over 30 out of around 50) and, this week, kindergartens and vocational schools, whose teachers came out on a three-day solidarity strike.

The main demand is for an average teacher wage of 120 percent of the nationwide average by 2027, while it has been widely reported that a wage hike for this year to €1,835 gross per month would stave off further strike action.

This would reportedly cost €10-11 million from state coffers, and much of this week's intra-coalition discussion, and debate between coalition and opposition too, has centered on whose responsibility finding these funds would be, and possible sources.

Support for Voltri's statements that society so far is largely backing the strike action can be found in the results of a recent survey, which stated three-quarters of respondents were in favor, though there have been some dissenting voices here and there, such as in this opinion piece by a teacher and member of the Parempoolsed party, which appeared on daily Eesti Päevaleht's site (link in Estonian).

Other factors being taken into account include regional differences, and a divergence of levels of qualification within and across the teaching body in Estonia, including in relation to Estonian-language skills.

Teachers are not paid uniformly across the country, and as recently as 10 months ago, while it was felt that the 120 percent of the national wage average could be met as early as this year, this would be achieved via increased workloads – meaning in practice not a pay-rise in real terms.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' news anchor Margus Saar.

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