Lithuanian teachers hold warning strike

Dissatisfied with current pay and working conditions as well as with education reforms being prepared by the government, Lithuanian teachers prepared for a two-hour warning strike on 21 February. The Ministry of Education and Science said it was ready to have discussions with other stakeholders and that all the issues being raised by Lithuania’s main teaching union were being addressed. The main issues involved assessing the competence of teachers and how pay is calculated.

Background

Teachers in Lithuania planned a two-hour warning strike in February to express their dissatisfaction with the education policy being pursued by the government.

They want to see changes in the way schools are funded, the hours worked and how this relates to the pay they receive, and new rules for assessing teachers’ qualifications.

Teachers demands

The greatest dissatisfaction stems from salaries. According to the teachers’ unions, all working teachers should be guaranteed at least 18 hours of classroom contact per week and be paid accordingly.

The focus of the planned warning strike was the current state funding system, based on ‘student baskets’– funding is currently allocated for students and not for higher education institutions, which means that students can take their ‘basket’ to any Lithuanian higher school. Teachers allege that this system favours larger schools. They are able to attract more students and thus take government funding away from the smaller schools, putting them under threat of closure. State funding is allocated for students and not for higher education institutions. Students can therefore take their basket to any Lithuanian higher school.

The trade unions fear that current and proposed education reforms will, in the near future, lead to mass restructuring or even school closures by local authorities. Students will then have to travel to schools that could be located several kilometres away, and the number of teaching jobs will be cut, leading to redundancies.

Likewise, teachers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current draft of the new qualifications improvement procedure for teachers which, among other things, includes an obligatory assessment of their competence. Unions are concerned that the introduction of this procedure will add to the administrative burden of schools and be used as a means of cutting teachers’ wages.

Trade union demands

The Lithuanian Education Trade Union (LSPS) submitted demands to the government and the Ministry of Education and Science (SMM) on 19 January. Under Lithuanian law, these demands should be reviewed and the ministry should respond in writing within seven working days.

Among the demands made by the LSPS were calls for:

  • urgent and substantial changes to the current procedure for education funding because it is failing to improve the quality of training through the effective use of funds allocated for education;
  • suspension of the plan to improve teachers’ qualifications until an alternative can be drafted by a fairly and transparently constituted working group, which should be instructed to agree any new plan with teaching unions;
  • revision of teachers’ and educators’ basic pay, so that a norm of 18 contact hours a week is clearly defined, in order to improve their social security situation.

The LSPS reserved the right to call a strike if the requirements above were rejected or agreement on how to meet them could not be reached during negotiations. This intention was supported by the signatures of several tens of thousands of teachers who planned to suspend classes during the two-hour warning strike on 21 February.

Government reaction

According to the Ministry of Education and Science (SMM), all the issues raised are being discussed with the LSPS, but solutions cannot be reached as quickly as teachers would like. The SMM insists that teachers have on average 18 class contact hours, and only teachers in small schools have fewer contact hours and are accordingly paid less.

The SMM also maintains that at the moment there are no funds available for increasing teachers’ pay, but that their working hours are under negotiation, as is the funding of schools.

The SMM says that changes in the funding procedure are expected next year. Likewise, it is ready to discuss the issue of assessing teachers’ competence.

Next steps

Following the protest action by teachers, negotiations continue with the ministry in working groups. The unions may consider a long-term strike if the outcome of the negotiations is unsatisfactory.

Inga Blažiene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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