Academic unions call one-hour strike for June 5

The University of Tartu's main building. Image is illustrative
The University of Tartu's main building. Image is illustrative Source: Simo Sepp/

The council of Estonia's academic trade unions has called for a "warning" strike in protest at the coalition government's announcement that it would not be boosting research and development (R&D) spend.

The previous administration signed an agreement at the end of 2018 that the research spending would reach 1 percent of GDP in the coming year. However, the Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coalition announced, following its state budget strategy discussions last week, that the figure would be frozen at the current 0.71 percent of GDP for the next few years.

The warning strike, which will last one hour, on June 5, was announced after a meeting of the Academic Trade Union Council and the extended board of the Universitas trade union association of Estonian universities, research and development institutions on Tuesday evening, BNS reports.

"In our view, the stalling of financing means that the planned sectoral level collective agreement, negotiations which we have started with the council of rectors, apparently cannot be signed - there simply is no money for long-awaited pay increases, social guarantees ensuring a basic income for workers financed under research projects, enabling of the emeritus status for merited scientists and other important topics," said the chair of the academic trade unions, Triin Roosalu.

The hour-long warning strike is to be held jointly in front of the Riigikogu building in Tallinn, and the building of the Ministry of Education and Research in Tartu, from noon to 1 p.m. on June 5.

According to Roosalu, the planned rise affects students as well as staff, though the latter is suffering from uncompetitive pay levels as well as increased workloads.

"In fact, the number of university teachers, in particular researchers, has not grown proportionally with the expansion of higher education," Roosalu added, saying it was important from the viewpoint of universities that ultimately, both high-level research activity and post-graduate training, as well as research-based higher education, are all jeopardized by the funding freeze.

The unions add that a possible demise of Estonian-language research and higher education will have a knock-on effect on Estonian-language school textbooks in future, thus directly impacting Estonian-language school education and culture as well. 

Rectors of many of the most prominent higher education institutions in Estonia, including those from Tallinn University and the University of Tartu, voiced their opposition to the move, saying it could lead to a return to paid-only higher education, a claim made also by the head of the students' unions.

President Kersti Kaljulaid also stated Tuesday that she sympathized with those affected, and that in the long-term, the move might lead to a brain-drain as academics, researchers, scientists and students might seek to study and work outside Estonia.

The funding freeze announced in the government's budget strategy has been placed in sharp contrast with its drive to slash alcohol excise duties, pending a bill currently before the Riigikogu.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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