The prime minister's statement that there is no pan-ministry will to find the €10.8 million needed to raise teachers' pay sufficiently to end the current strike is a true one, in the sense that there is no consensus within the coalition, Eesti 200 chair and Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said Thursday.
Tsahkna by his statements saw the situation as somewhat of a curate's egg, ie. good in parts, but identified an underlying lack of will which could have longer-term consequences even if the short-term situation is resolved.
As of Thursday afternoon, the government had failed to reach agreement on how to find the €10.8 million reportedly needed to hike teacher wages for this year to a level which would bring the current strike to an end.
Speaking to ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio," Tsahkna said: "It is not as if the government doesn't have the funds, it's that there's no unified political will here. And frankly when there's no political will, no consensus, the government can't make a decision on this wage issue."
In this respect, the prime minister's statement, that none of her ministers are prepared to find the €10.8 million from their own purview or in the form of cuts across all ministries, is a true statement.
"No one has said that we are not in agreement, but no one has said that we are in agreement either. When you lack the political will and direction – where the Finance minister hasn't addressed it much, let's be frank – then who is going to donate this money from their own pockets?" Tsahkna went on.
Nonetheless, if the political will is there and the government takes action and instructs all the ministers and their ministries to contribute, then one way or another, the required funds can be found, Tsahkna went on.
Tsahkna said his own party, Eesti 200, was in agreement on finding funds but was waiting for the rest of the coalition.
He also put the time-frame at "months," needed for the discussions on teacher concerns, meaning not only pay but also workload, at school and municipal level as well as at government level.
Nonetheless the €10.8 million should be found, he said, adding that the issue was not so much the money as a need to find "labor peace" so that negotiations can properly begin.
On Thursday, Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) invited organizations representing teachers, private schools and local governments to start negotiations on an education agreement for 2025 to 2027.
Tsahkna said a minor breakthrough had been made Thursday, when educational reforms were up for discussion (the cabinet holds a regular meeting every Thursday morning).
However, even these longer-term reform plans do not address where the €150 million needed to meet the 120 percent of national average wage principle, by 2027, nor even whether this would be done, Tsahkna said.
While the prime minister is genuinely supportive of educational reforms, Tsahkna said, "the long-term teachers' collective agreement salary will not come from these reforms. It is not in there."
In the immediate term, he remained hopeful about the €10.8 million being found to hike wages to a level sufficient to end the strike.
More pressing was "what sort of mood this strike will end with. If it ends with bitterness, that the government has railroaded everyone, then actually the negotiations in the context of the long-term plan will carry different undertones, since without the teachers and the municipalities [on side], it will prove very difficult to implement these reforms," Tsahkna went on.
The open-ended strike began on Monday and is unprecedented in its length and scope in Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming
Source: 'Esimene stuudio,' host Mirko Ojakivi.