Teachers threaten strike action over announced salary freeze
Inflation and other unforeseen factors have forced teachers to review the long-term agreement on salary increases concluded with the government in 2005. In reaction to the government’s plan to freeze salaries, the leader of the main teachers’ union declared that teachers would consider going on strike during the school examination period in May 2007.
Agreement between teachers and government
In 2005, the government and the Education and Science Workers’ Trade Union (Latvijas Izglītības un zinātnes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LIZDA) agreed on the scheme of salary increases for employees in the education sector (LV0409102F, LV0512103F, LV0408103F, LV0609019I). The agreement aimed to ensure that teachers’ salaries are no lower than the average salary of public sector employees with similar qualifications. Up to now, the government has only just complied with the agreed salary increase schedule. Despite the teachers’ protests and threats of industrial action, the government has continued trying to postpone or reduce the regular salary increase. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that, in 2006, the government considerably increased the salaries of a number of public-sector employees, including university lecturers and scientists. This increased the differentials between salaries and increased the average public sector salary by more than had been planned in the scheme approved by the government and teachers. Furthermore, the agreement had not taken into account the high prevailing rate of inflation in Latvia: it stood at stood at 6.2% in 2004, 6.7% in 2005, 6.5% in 2006 and 7.8% in February 2007.
In 2006, teachers continually reissued their demands to the government. Finally, further negotiations were held and a partial agreement on the compliance with the salary increase schedule was reached. Teachers, however, failed to convince the government to amend the salary schedule in line with the increased rate of inflation.
Government announces salary freeze
However, on 6 March 2007, the government adopted the inflation reduction plan stating that salaries of public-sector employees are not to be increased and only agreements on salary increases already signed with representatives of specific professions are to be implemented (LV0703029I). In reaction to the government’s action, the leader of LIZDA, Astrīda Herbacēviča, announced that if the government implements the planned salary freeze, teachers would consider going on strike during the school examination period in May 2007.
Ms Herbacēviča outlined that the teachers’ salary increase plan was based on the assumption that the average public sector salary increases by 10% a year; in 2006, however, it rose by 23% and is expected to rise by 17% in 2007. Consequently, teachers now demand a salary increase of €142 a month instead of the planned €71 a month as of 1 September 2007. LIZDA maintains that the government should both consider the figures stipulated in the 2005 agreement and reconsider the principle according to which the calculations are made.
LIZDA estimated that the average public-sector salary could reach €802 a month in 2010, while teacher salaries, if increased according to the plan approved by the government, would amount to €702 a month. Thus, teachers would once again receive less than the average public sector employee, although the provisions of the agreed plan stipulate otherwise.
The salary of public-sector education employees in the third quarter of 2006 was one of the lowest wage levels in the public sector – 20% lower than the average public-sector salary and 34% lower than civil servants’ salaries. The permanent task force of the Ministry of Education and Science (Latvijas Republikas Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija) is to develop proposals on the salary increase schedule for the years 2011–2014 and salary improvements starting from the academic year of 2007–2008. It was planned to submit the proposals to the government before 1 April 2007.
The teachers’ protests against low salaries have become a daily phenomenon and no longer attract widespread public attention. However, the situation of the teachers shows that at least a partial satisfaction of demands can be achieved through industrial action. Groups of employees working in other areas of the public sector – healthcare, culture and social work, among others – follow the teachers’ example. This further underlines the role of trade unions and facilitates the establishment of new trade unions such as the police trade union in 2005 (LV0505101N). Teachers’ salaries still remain low, and it is difficult to imagine what they would have been without protest action. Trade unions are concerned that if attempts to reach a proportionate and adequate salary fail, an increasing number of teachers will leave their jobs. Indeed, Latvia is already experiencing a lack of teachers.
Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences