Teachers strike over low pay

After months of negotiations and demonstrations, the Estonian Education Personnel Union announced its members would strike between 7 and 10 March 2012 in protest at teachers’ low pay. Pay negotiations started in September 2011, and the teachers’ minimum wage has not risen since 2009, but the government has said that it does not have the resources to pay the 20% increase being demanded. Around 15,000 teachers took part in the strike and 4,000 demonstrated in Tallinn on 7 March.

Latest agreed minimum wage increase abandoned

Teachers wages are set annually in an agreement between the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (HTM) and the Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL). However, the teachers’ minimum wage has not been increased since 2009. In December 2008, EHL and HTM reached an agreement to increase the minimum wage by 8% for all teacher qualification levels starting from 2009 (EE0902019I). In May 2009, however, the deteriorating economic crisis meant that government had to cut all public expenditure and it announced that the 2008 agreement could not be honoured. The union and the ministry agreed that minimum wages be returned to 2008 monthly levels for junior teachers of €608.18, for regular teachers, €644.04, for senior teachers, €736.07, and for teacher-methodologists €888.88.

Negotiations for the 2012 increase

In September 2011, HTM announced that there were no resources allocated for an increase in the teachers’ minimum wage in the 2012 state budget. The Minister of Education and Research, Jaak Aaviksoo, said that since the state budget could not fund a pay rise, the money would have to be found within the education system – indicating that local government should finance it.

HTM also said that it had reason to believe that many local governments used money allocated by central government for teachers’ salaries for other purposes. This suggestion was heavily criticised by local government leaders who denied that they had the resources to increase the minimum wage. Since no alternative proposal was made by the ministry, union leaders at EHL called a two-hour demonstration in Tallinn on 25 October. An estimated 1,700 people took part, demanding a 20% pay increase. EHL said that if the 2012 state budget was approved without finding the money for a pay rise, it would organise a strike. On 7 December, parliament approved the state budget without allocating the money for a wage increase.

Planned strike action

Before organising a strike, both sides had to attend talks at the Public Conciliators’ Office (Riiklik Lepitaja). Although Minister Aaviksoo and many other government representatives and politicians agreed that teachers’ wages should rise, no agreement was reached. On 13 February 2012, EHL announced a nationwide school and kindergarten teachers’ strike between 7 and 9 March. Around 15,000 teachers said they would take part, while transport workers, healthcare workers, music school teachers and theatre workers said they would take supportive industrial action.

Commentary

This is not the first time teachers have gone on strike in Estonia. On 4 December 2004, a successful one-day national strike of education workers was organised by the Estonian Employees’ Unions’ Confederation (TALO) to demand wage increases for employees with higher education working in the fields of education and culture.

Liina Osila, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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