Massive teacher layoffs in education sector
In September 2011, at the beginning of the 2011/2012 school year, some districts in Poland were planning to lay off up to 30% of their teaching staff. This is largely because the local governments responsible for supervising and funding public education up to secondary level are in financial difficulties, although a demographic slump has also caused a significant fall in pupil numbers. Unions, however, insisted that the cuts are being used to lower teachers’ pay and increase their working hours.
Huge cuts in education sector
At the end of the school year in Poland, usually around the beginning of June, local governments determine how many teachers will be needed in their schools for the next school year. From a survey of nearly 100 districts (in Polish) carried out by Dziennik Gazeta Prawna during June 2011, it appears that local governments intend to reduce the number of teachers for the first time in three years. The data suggest that in some districts the layoffs would be as high as 20%–30%. The figure shows the number of teachers employed since 2008.
Number of teachers employed in primary and secondary education since 2008
Source: Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, 5 June 2011
Causes of the layoffs
In 2009, districts allocated more than PLN 52 billion (€12.4 billion) to the education sector. They cannot exceed the threshold of permitted debt for local government, which was set by legal act in 2005 at 60% of annual incomes in budget. Due to the crisis and lower incomes, the districts have been forced to find budget savings.
However, there has also been a demographic slump and districts have had to close down schools where pupil numbers were falling. About 5.8 million pupils were enrolled in primary and secondary education during the 2008/2009 school year, and this had dropped to 5.5 million in the 2010/2011 school year.
This might have helped reduce costs, but the teachers’ wage bill rose last year when local governments were obliged to pay teachers a special allowance, the Supplementary Benefit. This is part of the teachers’ wage guarantee system and it tops up salaries that fall below average wage rates.
The benefit added PLN 250 million (€60 million) to the districts’ wage bill for teachers in 2011. The districts also had to meet part of the cost of an agreed 7% increase in teachers’ salaries.
Local authorities are under great pressure from central government to reduce their debt. The Ministry of Finance wants districts to reduce their budget deficits by 4% as of next year, and this cannot be done without cuts in education, the costs of which represent up to 70% of local budgets.
Position of the social partners
According to the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP), local governments are using the demographic slump as a pretext for making excessive cuts in teaching staff, and this may cause a dramatic deterioration in the quality of teaching. The union also says that since headteachers do not have to follow any specific criteria when deciding which members of staff to lay off, those who go may not be the least qualified or those with the poorest results.
The Ministry of National Education (MEN), anticipating the consequences of the decreasing number of pupils, has prepared draft amendments to the Educational System Act, intended to help both local governments and teachers. In the proposed amendment, the Ministry has suggested merging lower secondary schools (gimnazjum) with secondary schools (liceum) and removing the limit that currently prevents parent associations from taking control of lower secondary or secondary schools with more than 70 pupils.
Schools run by parent associations do not have to employ teachers under the Teachers’ Charter. The charter guarantees a maximum of 18 teaching hours a week and a minimum wage, but parent associations can pay less and require teachers to work longer hours. Central government also pays a lower subsidy to such associations than it would pay to a local authority to run similar schools, offering further savings in public expenditure.
The bill, however, is still under consideration. Work on it has been blocked by, among others, ZNP which opposes widespread handover of schools to associations.
Despite the fact that, over the past five years, local governments have closed down nearly 3,000 schools and the number of pupils has dropped by nearly 700,000, the number of teachers has increased by 13,000. There are now 665,000 teachers, the same number as were employed in 1990, when there were two million more pupils. However, despite these figures, it does seem that the scale of the planned layoffs is too high.
Educational trade unions are also protesting that this situation is being used by both central government and local authorities to try to bypass the guaranteed working conditions and wages set out in the Teachers’ Charter and this may lead to the deterioration of conditions of employment and lower wages. Unions are concerned that an increasing number of primary, lower secondary and secondary schools may be handed over to associations which are not only exempt from observing the Teachers Charter, but have begun increasingly to employ teachers on contracts that are not subject to the Labour Code.
The approach of the new school year may also be the beginning of a broader conflict between the trade unions, MEN and local governments.
Marta Trawinska, Institute of Public Affairs