Education workers' pay remains controversial

In summer 2004, the pay of workers in the education system remains a high-profile issue in Latvia. While there have recently been some improvements in the wages of teachers in the general education system, attention has now shifted to areas such as higher education teachers and nurses in educational establishments. Another issue is that increases in minimum wages are narrowing pay differentials between skilled and unskilled staff in the sector.

Due to economic difficulties, from the early 1990s pay in Latvian educational institutions worsened considerably. Of late, there has been a slight improvement in the wage conditions of teachers in 'general' educational establishments, following considerable trade union efforts. However, pay remains controversial in other parts of the educational system, with employees arguing that wages are not commensurate with their work.

Higher education

Some 5,900 people are employed as academic staff in higher (tertiary) education institutions. These institutions may be run by the central state, local government or the private sector, with education funding divided among the three. The state provides a set budgetary allocation to educational institutions under its ownership in accordance with budgetary resources and with requests from the institution, justified on the basis of the costs of teaching programmes. The state grants funding to private educational institutions for the implementation of accredited teaching programmes. State tertiary institutions also have the right to offer fee-charging educational services.

During the early 1990s, when economic difficulties led to a reduction in funding for tertiary education, staffing problems became critical. Unlike general educational institutions, where the Education and Science Workers Trade Union (Latvijas Izglītības un zinātnes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LIZDA) lobbies for pay rises, in higher education it is the educational institutions themselves that have to call on the state for wage increases for their staff. The main developments to date have been the introduction of professor status by the Tertiary Education Law, and Cabinet Regulation No. 73, which sets out minimum wages by position. As a result, the pay of professors at least can be set in such a way that additional funding sources do not have to be sought. Under the terms of these legislative provisions, pay procedures are set by the tertiary institutions themselves.

Wages increases in tertiary education are mainly funded by increasing the proportion of provision for which the institutions charge fees. Currently 76% of students at tertiary institutions pay for their education, and at the largest state tertiary institution, the University of Latvia (Latvijas Universitāte, LU), the figure is 79%. Student fees are increasing every year.

Currently, these fees are not leading to a reduction in the number of students wanting to study, and the additional resources obtained are permitting tertiary institutions to introduce experimental wage systems for staff. For example, at the University of Latvia three faculties are introducing a new wage system for academic and administrative employees. The new wage scheme is based on workplace studies and payments for similar positions at universities throughout the Baltic Sea region. All of the positions are grouped, and each group is allocated a number of points, on the basis of which wage bands are calculated. In all positions the new wages are several times higher than the minimum laid down by the state. For example, wages for lecturers are set at EUR 556 to EUR 1,158 per month, and those for professors at EUR 1,370 to EUR 2,544, while the monthly state grants towards these wages are EUR 202 and EUR 626 respectively.

The previous pay system at the University of Latvia was adopted in 1993 and was based on a 'coefficient' system. Teaching staff were guaranteed a state-determined minimum for their positions, and could seek additional payments based on their personal contribution in performing tasks at the university. The additional payments were determined by an assigned coefficient - according to teaching staff, the calculation criteria for this coefficient were unclear, and there was a significant variation, between 1.4 and 3. This created major differences in remuneration among teaching staff. Since it was sometimes impossible to justify the coefficients, the teaching staff complained about unfair pay. The wages of the teaching staff depended on the solvency of their faculties, which in turn was dependent on the willingness of students to attend fee-paying classes.

The new procedures for paying teaching staff at the University of Latvia are set out in a unified budget. This means that faculties with higher proportions of fee-paying students will have to subsidise the wages of teachers in other faculties. This is why two of the first faculties that have voluntarily introduced the new payment system have a very high number of fee-paying students. These are the social science and economics and management faculties. The third, history and philosophy, has a shortage of money and therefore the system is not operating there.

Teachers in vocational schools

Around 5,700 teachers work in vocational schools, which can be run by the central state, local government or the private sector. The wages of vocational school teachers are paid from the state budget or the budget of the state institution that controls the educational institution concerned. For example, cultural educational institutions are under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry is completely responsible for funding these institutions.

It is likely that the wage system in vocational schools has the same problems that affect the education system as a whole. However, so far these have not attracted any significant attention from trade unions or the public.

Consequences of minimum wage rises for education sector

The wages of employees in state-funded education institutions are based on classification categories, except in particular institutions where special pay schemes operate (see above).

Following increases in the statutory national minimum wage over 2003-4 (LV0408101N), within educational institutions wage differentials are decreasing between relatively unqualified staff who must receive at least the statutory minimum wage, and qualified specialists whose wages are regulated by the sector's own pay scheme. The government has decided to raise minimum wages only for those workers receiving up to EUR 120 per month, thus erasing differentials in monthly pay rates between 15-24 categories of position, even though there are different qualification requirements between these categories (for example, janitors and book-keepers). Within schools, for instance, the differential has been reduced between the wages of unqualified workers and deputy principals, even though the work skills and responsibilities required for the latter post are much higher. Due to funding shortfalls, local governments are unable to avert this situation by granting additional payments to more highly qualified workers.

The LIZDA trade union believes that it is necessary immediately to put in order the wage system for all areas of education funded from state and local government budgets and to ensure that wages are commensurate with the qualifications required for the work. LIZDA has asked that this question be resolved at the government level or through the National Tripartite Council (Nacionālās trīspusējās sadarbības padome, NTSP).

The Ministry of Finance has replied to LIZDA that a 'concept' is being prepared on a unified wage system for state sector employees. The draft concept provides for the establishment of a unified, efficient and motivating wage system for state sector employees that corresponds to work input and ensures that payment accords with the employee's qualifications and work performance, and which should avert the situation whereby increases in the minimum wage reduce differentials between wages for qualified and unqualified workers.

Nurses employed in educational institutions

As the wages of teachers rise, discrepancies are appearing between their pay and that of other specialists employed in educational institutions. Reports have recently appeared in the media about very low wages paid to school nurses. Full-time nurses’ wages are EUR 125 to EUR 134 per month - only slightly higher than the wages of full-time unqualified workers, who receive EUR 120 a month following the latest increase in the statutory minimum wage. Additionally, some schools can only afford to employ nurses part time.

The necessity to have nurses in schools is laid down in Cabinet Regulation No. 279 of 2 July 2002 on 'procedures for providing healthcare to students and the availability of first aid in educational institutions'. Articles 3 and 5 of this Regulation states that the wages of school nurses are to be paid from local government budgets.

School principals point out that it is essential to have nurses in schools to ensure the safety of students. In addition to their direct responsibilities, nurses are involved in looking after the working environment and the observance of student health and safety requirements in schools. Alongside teachers, nurses are also indirectly involved in teaching work. It is also argued that, as inadequate healthcare funding has made medical services less accessible, school nurses are now involved in the preventative healthcare of children. Nurses’ wages are thus, it is claimed, currently too low compared with the duties they perform.

The Latvian Preschool Institutions and School Nurses Association (Latvijas Pirmsskolas iestāžu un skolu medicīnas māsu asociācija) has requested explanations from the government with regard to the pay situation of school nurses. The association’s submission was examined by the Ministry for Regional Development and Local Government Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance. The coordinated response from these ministries did not offer any concrete proposals for resolving the problem, stating that nurses’ wages are the responsibility of local governments.

According to information from the Ministry of Finance, cabinet regulations regarding the wage system for medical personnel funded by state institutions and social work specialists are being prepared but, because funding to implement this plan is not allocated in the 2004 state budget, these regulation have been sent for further review in conjunction with the draft amendments to the 2004 budget. The new regulations from the Ministry of Finance will also only regulate the pay system for nurses at state-funded institutions, and will not apply to setting wages for school nurses.

Commentary

The issue of educational workers’ wages is one of the clearest example of 'active industrial relations' in Latvia, demonstrating how results can be achieved through cooperation among the public authorities and social partners. However, the problems highlighted above indicate that partial solutions distort the system as a whole, and that achievements in one sphere create problems in others. Since any wage increase is connected with increases in budgetary expenditure, and education already consumes a relatively high proportion of GDP, at present the government cannot resolve education problems as a whole. This means that there is still a long way to go before there can be a complete resolution of the issue of wages for education sector workers, a reality that the LIZDA union also accepts.

On the other hand, delays can result on damaging consequences. For example, the arguably excessive prevalence of fee-paying higher education, in a form that is funded solely from personal income (since income tax has to be paid on the whole tuition fee, irrespective of whether the fee-payer is an individual or an organisation) attracts additional funds to tertiary institutions but does not accord with the country's development strategy of aspiring to be a knowledge-based economy. Additionally, to cover their tuition fees, even full-time students are forced to work, which harms the quality of their studies. There is awareness of these problems, but a solution to them has not been found yet. (Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences)

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