Fresh uncertainty after resolution of teachers’ strike

In May 2012, teachers in the Zarasai district of Lithuania made a number of demands about school services, funding and pay to the municipality authorities who administer the education budget. Receiving no response, the teachers went on strike in September 2012. After more than two weeks of industrial action, the parties reached an agreement. Then, in October 2012, the principals of some of the Zarasai schools applied to the court for a ruling on the lawfulness of the strike.

Background

On 14 May 2012, the Zarasai district association of the Trade Union of Lithuanian Education Employees (LŠDPS) submitted seven demands to Arnoldas Abramavicius, Mayor of the Zarasai district municipality (ZRS). By doing this they initiated a collective labour dispute.

The teachers’ demands included:

  • returning the provision of pupil transport, which had been unsuccessfully privatised, back to schools;
  • coordinating with school communities over amendments to the provision of pupil catering services– in other words, suspending the privatisation of school canteens;
  • ensuring funding for the School of Arts and Sports Centre;
  • refining and approving a territorial collective agreement, establishing, among other things, the basic principles of pay for all employees of education establishments within the district;
  • using the available funds in a transparent and effective manner, in coordination not only with school executives, but with trade unions.

Dispute escalates

To comply with Lithuanian legislation, the municipality was obliged to examine the demands and notify the union of its decision in writing within seven days. If they were unhappy with the decision, the employees’ representatives could initiate the hearing of a collective labour dispute in line with the procedure laid down in the Labour Code. Failure to settle the dispute using the prescribed dispute settlement instruments would entitle the trade unions to declare a strike.

The municipality failed to respond to the teachers’ demands, and on 30 May 2012, trade union representatives registered a request with the chancellery of the municipality to appoint representatives to the Conciliation Commission, the first step in initiating the hearing of a collective labour dispute. Not one sitting of the Conciliation Commission was convened during the next three months, and in an extended meeting held by the Zarasai district association of the LŠDPS on 29 August 2012, a resolution was passed to start an open-ended general strike of school workers on 12 September 2012.

Looking for solutions

The first meeting between the two parties was held on 13 September 2012, the day after the initiation of the strike. As well as representatives of the trade unions and the ZRS, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Science (ŠMM), workers from the striking schools, and pupils’ parents were present at the meeting. At the meeting it was agreed to open talks on the teachers’ demands.

During the negotiations, it was agreed to convene an extraordinary meeting of the ZRS supervisory board. This would draft resolutions regarding the demands of the strikers and have them considered.

After a two-week strike and lengthy negotiations, on 26 September 2012 the parties finally signed a compromise agreement and the strike was suspended. It was agreed that all striking teachers and school staff would resume work on 27 September 2012, and resolutions of the meeting of the ZRS supervisory board to be held on 28 September 2012 would serve as a basis for the strike committee’s decision to resume or discontinue the protest action.

As the members of the supervisory board at the meeting almost unanimously approved all paragraphs in the agreement, the strike of school workers was called off.

Post-strike developments

Although the trade unions regarded the agreement as a something of a success, the possible resumption of the strike was back on the agenda by the middle of October 2012. The trade unions claim that the ZRS followed only parts of the agreement and further dialogue between the trade unions and municipality was slow.

However, the main conflict during the post-strike period had to do with the agreement that the ZRS would pay 50% of workers’ wages for days they had been on strike.

The State Labour Inspectorate (VDI) has said budgetary institutions may agree on the payment of wages for strike days provided the strike was lawful. However, principals at some schools questioned whether the strike was indeed lawful, and applied to the court for a ruling.

The trade unions were outraged, and regarded the application for a court ruling as a way of taking revenge on the strikers. The trade unions called for a peaceful settlement of the issues instead of starting a judicial process. If this did not happen the unions said they would resume strike action.

Representatives of the municipality and school principals have maintained that school executives are fully responsible for financial matters and had to be certain the payment of salaries to the striking teachers was not against the law.

The court session was scheduled for 24 October 2012, but the hearing was postponed due to receipt of new petitions from the principals of other schools.

Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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