New rules introduced on teachers' pay and qualifications

The new school year beginning in September 2004 brings significant changes to industrial relations in Latvia’s education system. First, new regulations have been adopted on teachers’ pay that should cut their workloads and increase their pay. Second, all teachers now require tertiary professional qualifications and/or appropriate continuing education qualifications. Around 100 teachers may now lose their jobs due to inadequate qualifications, though dismissals are not likely to be easy, given protective employment legislation.

Industrial relations in the education system are the most high profile of any sector in Latvia. In most other sectors, whatever the state of working and employment conditions, information about them is rarely publicised and there are no reports of conflicts. For example, there are reports that the rights of agricultural, retail and construction workers are not fully respected, while statistics show that there are major differences between the wages of female and male workers in the banking sector, which could be caused by infringements of gender equality laws. However, in none of these sectors do workers or their representatives appear to have raised objections about their working and employment conditions. The main exception is education, where attempts by workers to enforce their rights have forced the government to listen and take favourable decisions (LV0408103F and LV0406102F) (there are also some signs of similar developments in the healthcare sector, where wages do not reflect the complex nature of the work - LV0405102N).

Education workers have made gains mainly in terms of pay increases. Over the past six years, the average wage rate for education workers has doubled from EUR 120 to EUR 240 per month, but is still not high. In the first quarter of 2001, the average net monthly wage in the public education sector was EUR 205, while the average national net monthly wage in the public sector was EUR 230. Wages for private sector education workers were higher - at EUR 238 per month - while the national average net wage was lower - at EUR 197 per month. While workers seek higher pay, the government has demanded that education workers attain higher educational qualifications. Both sides argue that their aim is to increase the quality of education.

The 2004/5 school year, beginning in September 2004, has brought two significant changes to industrial relations in Latvia’s education system:

  • new regulations have been adopted governing teachers’ pay; and
  • previously adopted legislative requirements for teachers to have higher education qualifications come into force.

New pay rules

In accordance with the transitional regulations of the Education Law, up until 1 September 2004 teachers’ wages were governed by Cabinet Regulation No. 73 of 15 February 2000, which set the amount of the lowest rate of teachers’ pay.

In July 2004 the Ministry of Education and Science submitted for review a new draft Cabinet Regulation on teachers’ wages, which was subsequently adopted on 24 August. The main aim of the Regulation is to reduce the number of paid shifts worked by teachers while simultaneously increasing the paybill, thereby increasing the rate per shift.

The Regulation stipulates the lowest teachers’ monthly wage rates (per shift) in order to implement Article 53 Section 2 of the Education Law: The monthly minimum wage per shift for an education worker with the lowest professional qualifications may not be lower than twice the national minimum wage. This norm, which was adopted by parliament on 5 February 2004, led to the resignation of the coalition government, which considered fulfillment of the rule to be impossible.

The current statutory national minimum wage is EUR 120 per month, and therefore the monthly minimum wage per shift for an education worker with the lowest professional qualification may not be lower than EUR 240. In line with a schedule adopted by the government (LV0310101N), the national minimum wage should be increased to reach half of the national average wage (ie EUR 210 a month) over a seven-year period. An agreement was reached in the National Tripartite Council (Nacionālās trīspusējās sadarbības padome, NTSP) whereby the monthly minimum wage is to be increased by EUR 15 per year up to 2010. The minimum wage has been raised twice in accordance with the schedule, but in 2004 the government declined to implement the next minimum wage increase that was supposed to come into force from 1 January 2005 (LV0408101N).

The regulations governing teachers’ pay apply to all public sector teachers. However, the largest increase from 1 September 2004 is for teaching staff in tertiary education. While school teachers’ wages rise on average by EUR 37 per month, and the heads of educational institutions will receive an extra EUR 70 per month, teaching staff in tertiary institutions receive an increase of EUR 250. The regulations provide that the pay for teachers in general education schools with the lowest level of qualifications and under five years' experience is EUR 240 per month, while for those with over 10 years' experience it is EUR 256. The figures for educational experts are EUR 246 and EUR 275 respectively, or EUR 280 and EUR 320 for those employed in state-established educational support institutions. The lowest permissible pay for university chancellors is EUR 950 per month, for professors EUR 760, for vice-chancellors, associate professors and deans EUR 608, for senior lecturers and department heads EUR 487, for vice-deans and lecturers EUR 390, and for assistants EUR 311.

As before, wages in general education institutions depend on the amount of teaching experience. Wages for heads of institutions, deputies and heads of units also depend on the numbers of pupils. Changes are also planned for college teachers’ wages.

Teachers in schools for minority groups will also be able to receive additional payments for teaching subjects bilingually or in Latvian. Until now, the amount of the extra payments (averaging 30% of the existing rate) depended on the number of lessons taught. Teachers were unhappy with the procedures for determining the extra payments because professional complexity was not taken into account. It is planned that from 1 September 2004 a new procedure will come into force, whereby the additional payments will be calculated on the basis of 21 lessons and one-shift working. A sum of EUR 1.8 million has been allocated for additional payments to teachers in minority schools in 2004. Until now, the additional payments were automatically received by Latvian language and physical education teachers. Henceforth, greater attention will be paid to granting the additional payments to teachers in other subjects.

The wages for education workers in private institutions are not regulated by the new rules.

Astrīda Herbaceviča, the chair of the Education and Science Workers Trade Union (Latvijas Izglītības un zinātnes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LIZDA), told the Diena newspaper that the new pay regulations are considered to be reasonable.

An additional EUR 14.5 million has been allocated in the 2004 state budget for increasing teachers’ wages, while in 2005 the figure will be EUR 54.8 million. Rapid economic growth increasing budget revenues is an additional source of funding, as is the recent decision not to increase the national minimum wage, which will freeze the lowest rate of teachers' pay per shift.

New professional qualification requirements

The changes to the professional qualification requirements for education workers are connected with the application of Cabinet Regulation No. 347. This Regulation was adopted on 3 October 2000 and has been already amended four times. The Regulation was issued in connection with Article 14 Paragraph 13 Subparagraph 48 Section 1 of the Education Law and Article 18 of the Professional Education Law.

The Regulation stipulates the educational programmes that people must pass to work in the teaching profession. These are first- and second -level professional tertiary education study programmes (lasting for two to five years depending on the nature of the teaching work), academic education study programmes in pedagogy, and over 10 professional development and continuing education programmes. The Regulation also sets requirements for the education and professional qualifications required for teachers. Professional tertiary pedagogical education and/ or continuing education, as set out in the Regulation, are required for all education levels and pedagogical professions. Even kindergarten and 'hobby' education teachers require tertiary pedagogical education or continuing education as set out in the Regulation.

The rules are coming into force gradually, but as of 1 September 2004 the professional qualifications of most education workers must conform to the new requirements or they must be studying for such qualifications. The requirements do not apply to education workers in employment who have five years or less to go until retirement age. In summer 2004, concerns were raised that the entry into force of the regulations could lead to job losses (LV0408102N) because many teachers, especially those at kindergartens, do not have the opportunity to obtain the appropriate education due to their age or a lack of money.

As the start of the 2004/5 school year approached, teachers hurried to enrol in tertiary institutions so as not to lose their jobs. However, owing to staff shortages and given that many teachers are starting the relevant studies, school administrations are in no rush to dismiss teachers lacking the required qualifications. The Ministry of Education and Science has estimated that after 1 September 2004 around 100 teachers do not meet the qualification requirements.

LIZDA has argued that it will not be easy to dismiss teachers without the appropriate qualifications, because school administrations must follow the norms of the Labour Law (LV0405103F) when dismissing employees. The basis for the dismissal of teachers without the necessary qualifications is Article 101 Paragraph 6 of the Labour Law, allowing dismissal where 'the employee does not possess sufficient professional skills to perform the contracted job'. In accordance with the Education Law, a teacher not meeting the qualifications set out in Regulation No. 347 may not be employed. On the other hand, dismissal in line with Article 101 of the Labour Law involves several additional conditions designed to prevent the unfair dismissal of employees. For example, a teacher without the required qualifications may be dismissed only if the employer cannot employ the employee (with their consent) in another job. If the employee is a trade union member, the employer must obtain the union’s agreement to terminate the employment contract. If the union does not agree to terminate the contract, the employer may apply to a court within one month of the date of receiving the union's response. Employers are prohibited from terminating an employment contract with: a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding, or in the first year after the birth; an employee recognised as being disabled; an employee suffering temporary incapacity; or an employee who is on holiday or not performing work due to other reasonable grounds. Employers must abide by the one-month notice period for termination of contracts. Collective agreements or employment contracts may provide for time off to seek new jobs during which employees awaiting dismissal retain their contracted earnings. In the event of dismissal, an employee has the right to receive a termination payment equivalent to one month's average earnings.

It is planned that the implementation of the new regulations will be cautious. Teachers without the required qualifications will be warned, and ways will be sought to help them gain these qualifications. It is therefore hoped that the new rules will not lead to industrial conflict in schools.

Commentary

The LIZDA trade union has expressed concern about the high qualification requirements and the very small wage differentials between new teachers and experienced ones. Commenting on the proposals in May 2004, the union said that the new qualification requirements are not compatible with teachers' wages. The fact that the difference in minimum wages between teachers with under five years' experience and those with more than 10 years is just EUR 15 a month does not motivate young teachers to remain in schools and raise their qualifications. Additionally, the state budget amendments to fund wage rises in education are usually adopted at the last minute, thereby creating uncertainty about the pay and conditions for each subsequent school year. Education workers are unconvinced that promises will be fulfilled and concerned about the confusion about pay before each school year.

On the other hand, it should be noted that, at least in terms of increasing wages, the education sector has always received attention from the government. This can be explained by the active work of LIZDA in generating support within the government and organising teachers' protests if promises given are not fulfilled. However, LIZDA has stated that teachers are tired of the constant changes and are no longer able to keep up with them.

Seen objectively, education is not the most critical social service sector in Latvia at present. Healthcare workers have much worse employment conditions, including a serious gulf between the professional quality of their work and their wages. (Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences)

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