Education sector trade unions threaten indefinite strike
Trade unions in the education sector in Lithuania are seeking a significant wage increase for teachers in 2008. Alleging violations by the government of a 2005 pay and working conditions agreement, and dissatisfied with progress in talks on long-term pay rises, some trade unions in the sector threatened to launch an indefinite strike on 3 March 2008.
In November 2005, under the authorisation of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV), the then Minister of Education and Science, Remigijus Motuzas, and the Chair of the Trade Union of Lithuanian Educational Workers (Lietuvos švietimo darbuotojų profesinė sąjunga, LŠDPS), Aleksas Bružas, signed an agreement on wage increases and improvements in working conditions for teachers and other educational workers.
Trade union protests
Under the 2005 agreement, LŠDPS retained a right to strike if the commitments contained in the agreement are not met. According to LŠDPS, current executives at the Ministry of Education and Science (Švietimo ir mokslo ministerija, ŠMM) are violating the agreement reached in 2005; as a result, the trade union organised various protest actions in 2007, including the following:
- a demonstration involving teachers held at the offices of ŠMM in February;
- a mass meeting held outside government offices in October;
- token two-hour strikes held in schools in November;
- fixed-duration strikes of up to three days’ duration held in some schools in December.
In January 2008, LŠDPS initiated a further protest, whereby teachers withdrew from form-teacher positions.
The main demands of the trade unions in education include a 50% wage increase for teachers, measures to ensure teachers’ safety in schools and a reduction in their workload.
In response to the trade union protests and demands, the government formed a working group to develop a ‘long-term wage increase programme’ for the education sector. The current Minister of Education and Science, Roma Žakaitienė, is leading this working group, which also includes: the Minister of Finance, Rimantas Šadžius, the Minister of Social Security and Labour, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, trade union representatives of workers in education, and representatives of the Association of Lithuanian School Executives (Lietuvos mokyklų vadovų asociacija) and the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania (Lietuvos savivaldybių asociacija, LSA).
On 1 January 2008, wages for teachers, as well as for other employees of institutions funded by the state budget, were increased by 11.3%, while changes to teachers’ pay scales resulted in an additional 3.7% increase – the total salary increase for teachers thus exceeded 15% from 1 January. In addition, the working group agreed to increase monthly salary base rates from 1 September 2008 by 25% for non-certified teachers with university degrees and less than three years’ work experience, and by at least 16% for other teachers. Proposals on continued long-term wage increases for teachers up to 2011 are also being considered. The working group was expected to produce the final draft of the long-term wage increase programme by 1 March 2008.
Unions threaten strike
However, dissatisfied with the negotiations in the working group, some trade unions suspended their participation in this group: in particular, they criticised wage growth as being too slow and what they considered to be an inflexible position taken by government negotiators.
On 9 February 2008, the chairs of the Lithuanian Teachers’ Union (Lietuvos mokytojų profesinė sąjunga, LMPS), the Christian Trade Union of Educational Workers (Krikščioniškoji švietimo darbuotojų profesinė sąjunga, KŠDPS), the Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Lietuvos profesinė sąjunga ‘Solidarumas’, LPS ‘Solidarumas’) and LŠDPS met in the capital city, Vilnius, to discuss the possibilities for teachers’ wage increases and plans to hold strikes. The four trade unions suspended their participation in the ‘long-term wage increase programme’ working group, lodged a petition with the government seeking prompt direct negotiations and announced plans to launch an indefinite strike on 3 March 2008.
Inga Blažienė, Institute of Labour and Social Research