Conflict in education sector triggers minister’s resignation
Industrial action by teachers over pay demands has been a prominent political issue in Lithuania in the early months of 2008. The government has drawn up a long-term programme to award teachers an average 92% pay increase by 2011, but this has met with opposition from some trade unions and parliament is considering ways of granting further wage rises. The situation led to the resignation of the Minister of Education and Science at the beginning of April 2008.
From autumn 2007 onwards, teachers’ trade unions organised a series of protests and token strikes in support of significant pay increases (LT0803019I), In response, the Prime Minister ordered the creation of a working group to develop a long-term wage increase programme for the education sector. This working group was led by Roma Žakaitienė, the Minister of Education and Science, and included the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Social Security and Labour, representatives of education trade unions, and representatives of the Association of Lithuanian School Executives and the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania.
Long-term wage increase programme
The working group prepared a long-term wage increase programme for education, which was approved by a government resolution on 5 March 2008. The aim of the programme is “to improve the attractiveness of the teacher’s profession, to raise the quality of education and the social standing of educational workers, to ensure long-term wage increases for educational workers”. The programme sets out wage increases for educational workers for the period ending in 2011. It aims:
- To ensure a gradual increase in the average wage for educational workers so that it exceeds the overall national average wage;
- To improve the remuneration system of educational workers.
The programme should be implemented from 1 September 2008 to 31 December 2011. It provides for the official wage rates for educational workers to be increased by 20% on average with effect from 1 September 2008. This will be followed by average increases of: 10% from 1 January 2009; 10% from 1 September 2009 (only 9.5% for non-teaching staff); 10% from 1 September 2010; and 10% from 1 January 2011.
From 1 September 2009, teachers will receive a fixed salary, rather than being paid at an hourly rate.
Implementation of this programme should result in an average 92% wage increase for education workers, compared to their wages before 1 September 2008.
Further strike and parliamentary intervention
Some teachers’ unions, dissatisfied with the programme developed by the working group, launched a strike. On 20 March, parliament intervened and meetings were held between leaders of all striking trade unions and representatives of all the main political parties in parliament. A working group was formed by the political parties and the unions with a view to developing a wage increase programme for the education sector for 2008. On 21 March, the striking trade unions announced suspension of the strike.
Parliamentary deliberations on possible wage increases for teachers in excess of those set out in the long-term programme and continuing tension in the education sector contributed to the resignation of the Minister of Education and Science, Roma Žakaitienė, on 7 April. According to press reports, the minister believes that the parliamentary discussion of further pay rises is making the situation in the education system even more strained. According to an interview she gave with Lithuanian Radio, the Minister’s resignation is intended to bring calm to the situation. She stated that a suggestion from the parliamentary opposition that teachers’ pay could be increased with additional public funds made available after a budget review in mid-year would further inflame tensions, and claimed that the government’s efforts to find the required funds would fail.
It is not yet known who will be the new Minister of Education and Science.
Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research