Lithuania: Teaching unions strike twice in a row after negotiations collapse
Teaching unions in Lithuania went on strike on two separate days in December after the failure of six months of talks with the government over pay and conditions. About 15% of education workers took part in the two-hour stoppages.
Negotiations on pay and working conditions in Lithuania’s education sector began on 23 June between the Ministry of Education and Science (SMM) and eight of the sector’s trade unions. The unions were seeking a commitment to a permanent increase in education funding, greater pay parity between primary and secondary school teachers, and more job security for lecturers and researchers. On 11 November, the unions decided to set up a joint strike committee, and between 13–16 November six of the eight bargaining unions decided to abandon the negotiations. On 16 November, the trade unions asked for a permanent increase in the annual education budget of funding of more than €100 million. The Lithuanian Government (LRV) was prepared to grant only an extra €10 million in 2016. After failing to reach a mediated agreement, the unions went on strike on 8 December and 10 December. According to various sources, a total of about 15% of education workers participated.
In general, the trade union demands extended well beyond the SMM’s proposals for the improvement of working and social conditions for education workers. However, no consensus was reached on a number of important issues such as a guaranteed increase in national expenditure on education (including pay rises), and increased job security for lecturers and researchers.
On 28 October, Lithuanian education workers held a conference enTtitled 'Education policy – towards a social explosion'. At this event, a manifesto of delegates’ demands was adopted and delegates threatened strike action unless at least one of these demands was met. When the working group still could not reach agreement, the trade unions presented their demands to the LRV and SMM on 16 November. Top of the list were:
- restore school funding to the level of 1 January 2009;
- increase the number of non-contact hours (for lesson preparation and other duties not directly involving pupils) for pre-school and primary education teachers;
- converge salaries of pre-school and primary teachers with those of secondary school teachers (salaries to be increased by 15% in 2016 and 10% in 2017);
- increase official wage rates gradually for other teaching staff (by 10% in 2016 and by another 7% in 2017);
- apply only the highest coefficient to official wage rates from 1 September 2016;
- allocate €2.56 million in the national budget of 2016 to severance pay for teachers reaching the statutory retirement age and who choose voluntarily to leave the education system;
- reduce class sizes (in all age groups) with effect from 1 September 2016.
The SMM said these demands would cost an extra €233 million over the next two years. When the Prime Minister asked the SMM to reject this, the trade unions then asked the LRV and SMM, on 23 November, to set up a conciliation commission.
Government refuses to meet demands
On 30 November, the Minister for Education and Science Audronė Pitrėnienė asked the Political Council of the ruling majority to discuss the union’s demands. The annual education budget is about €800 million and SMM estimated it would cost €102.7 million to satisfy the requirements just for 2016. However, the Political Council allocated an additional €10 million from the national budget.
On 1 December, the SMM’s conciliation commission analysed all the requirements of trade unions and the government proposals. However, neither party would move. The proposal by LRV’s representatives to refer the dispute to labour arbitration was not supported, either.
On 2 December, trade unions announced a two-hour warning strike by education workers on 8 December. Another warning strike took place on 10 December.
ETUC supports action
Martin Rømer, Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) visited Lithuania on 3 December to meet, together with Lithuanian union representatives, the First Deputy Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament (LRS), the Chair of the Committee on State Administration and Local Authorities, the Chair of the Committee on Budget and Finance, and the Minister for Education and Science. After the meeting, Martin Rømer addressed the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the LRS, the Chair of the LRS Committee on Education, Science and Culture, and the Minister for Education and Science about the current state of education in Lithuania. He stressed that, in the absence of any significant changes before Christmas, the ETUCE would address the International Labour Organization about the unacceptable working conditions of Lithuanian teachers, and also report to the European Commission about the ineffective use of EU structural funds received by Lithuania for education.
At a meeting on 16 December, the trade unions repeated their demands and decided to organise a three-day strike at the end of January if their demands were not satisfied.
Although the negotiations were abandoned by six of the eight trade unions, two of them continue to bargain: the Lithuanian Federation of Trade Unions (Sandrauga) and the Association of Lithuanian Trade Unions of Higher Education (LAMPSS).
Although well below the trade unions’ demands, the €10 million increase in education expenditure will give all educators a pay rise from 1 January 2016 – their first in six years. The pay of the lowest-paid educators in pre-school and pre-primary education will be increased by up to 7% (in 2015, it grew by 10%). Pay for newly qualified teachers in comprehensive schools will be raised by 5%, with a 3% rise for other teachers. An additional €1.5 million will be added in 2016 to the severance pay fund for retiring teachers.