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SDE leader: Agreement on teacher salaries prerequisite for other government progress

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Lauri Läänemets (SDE).
Lauri Läänemets (SDE). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Without an agreement on teachers' salaries, there will be no others in the government, head of the coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE) Lauri Läänemets said Monday.

"We are still stuck behind the Reform Party's reluctance to end the strike. We will retain our efforts at trying to convince them, and I believe that as sides to the government are set to debate the fiscal strategy tomorrow, the teachers' pay issue will need to be resolved before an agreement [on the strategy] can be reached," Läänemets told ERR.

Without an agreement on teachers' salaries, there will not be an agreement on anything, Läänemets remarked. "We have two ruling parties (SDE and Eesti 200 – ed.) trying to find a solution and one (Reform) simply stating that striking is bad, the teachers are wrong and we should ignore it. I think that is the problem in a nutshell," the SDE leader added.

"In the end, a compromise will have to be found for everything in the coalition. If we want a compromise for the fiscal strategy, we'll also need one on teachers' wages," Estonia's interior minister also said.

Moving on to the fiscal strategy, Läänemets suggested that SDE has proposed fighting the practice of optimizing taxes by dressing de facto employment relationships up as business activity, reducing red tape and having people who make in excess of €5,000 a month contribute more in the way of taxes.

"We might give up public servants' bonuses and probably have to dial back other expenses," Läänemets said, adding that cutting youth services to hike the pay of teachers might be in order.

Kristina Kallas: I have proposed to the prime minister a way to find the money

As of this Monday, there is no agreement for teachers' salaries in the government, Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) said in the afternoon. "We are looking for a solution, and I have made a new proposal to the prime minister of how to find the money. I'm waiting for the PM to tell me whether it is workable," Kristina Kallas said.

"We need to put this labor dispute with our teachers to bed, we cannot keep stalling and seeing which side holds out for much longer. Hopefully I will be able to talk to the prime minister again today or tomorrow."

"We need to agree on a way to move toward fiscal balance on the one hand, while we cannot just suspend Estonia on the other. We need to invest and cover fixed expenses. Teachers' salaries are part of the latter, while we are also talking about the wages of rescue and culture workers. All of these topics will come up Tuesday," Kallas said.

The education minister added that Eesti 200 sees no way not to raise the pay of teachers in the fiscal strategy for the coming years. "That is no way to run a country. I'm not sure this is an ultimatum, but it is a clear message. We cannot move forward without an agreement on priorities or for curating the field of education."

Teachers in Estonia launched a general strike on January 22. Over 18,000 teachers said they participated last Monday and were joined by 6,000 kindergarten teachers in a three-day sympathy action Wednesday. The Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EHL) has said that teachers are willing to end their strike if the government can find the money for a 5 percent pay rise this year. The cost is €10.8 million.

The article was updated to add comments from Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200).

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Editor: Mari Peegel, Marcus Turovski

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