Teachers’ union pushes for higher wages

Amendments to education legislation cancel the link between teachers’ wages and the minimum monthly wage. The Education and Scientific Workers’ Trade Union had made an agreement with the government that teachers’ pay would be linked to another objective economic indicator, such as the average monthly wages of public sector employees. As this agreement was not honoured, strike action may be considered by September 2007.

Parliament reviews teachers’ wages

On 19 December 2006, Latvia’s parliament passed the ‘Amendments to the education law’ as an urgent policy measure. The amendments annul the previously stipulated provision of the law that the minimum full-time wage for teachers with the lowest professional qualification level may not amount to less than two minimum monthly wages.

The issue of teachers’ wages is constantly on the agenda of the social partners. Education funding is the biggest item in state and local government expenditure, and so the government’s attempts to avoid restricting financial obligations in relation to education funding are understandable. On the other hand, the interests of those working in the field of education are defended by a powerful representative – the Education and Science Workers’ Trade Union (Latvijas Izglītības un zinātnes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LIZDA).

The centre-left opposition party, For Human Rights in a United Latvia (Par Cilvēktiesībām Vienotā Latvijā, PCTVL), sent a letter to the state President, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, requesting that the adopted amendments be rejected, as they do not comply with the trade union’s demands.

Union protests against remuneration procedures

On 29 August 2005, LIZDA established, by the Republic of Latvia Cabinet of Ministers Order No. 579, the teachers’ wage schedule for 2006–2010. The most important provisions of teachers’ remuneration were confirmed in the education law. Article 53, part 2, of the law stipulated the connection between teachers’ wages and the minimum wage.

The trade union had reached agreement with seven political parties and the Ministry of Education and Science (Latvijas Republikas Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija) that changes must be made to the education law and teachers’ wages must be linked to average wages for public sector workers with a coefficient of 1.3. However, in opening the discussion on the education law, the politicians backtracked on the agreement and eliminated any linkage of wages to an economic indicator.

LIZDA believes that the order of the Cabinet of Ministers (Latvijas Republikas Ministru kabinets, MK) is a political document with less force than the firm guarantees stipulated in the law. In addition, the document adopted in 2005 did not take inflation into account (LV0512103F), which has remained at 6%–7% in recent years. However, economic indicators such as the minimum wage and the average public sector wage change or are adjusted according to the inflation rate. Therefore, the trade union believes that the decoupling of teachers’ wages from the national minimum wage without being linked to another economic indicator is unacceptable.

Teachers not to strike

Striking is a traditional industrial relations instrument in the education sector; the biggest successes in the field of remuneration for education workers have been achieved through taking such action. However, on this occasion, teachers have decided not to strike.

It is expected that LIZDA, together with the Ministry of Education and Science, will develop a new schedule for increasing education workers’ wages, but this would only come into force on 1 September 2007. The threat of strike action could re-emerge on that date if the government and the trade union fail to reach an agreement.

Commentary

In 2006, teachers received their first significant wage increase (LV0609019I). However, despite the increase, in the third quarter of 2006, the average gross wage in the public education sector was almost 20% lower than the average for public sector workers, amounting to €396 for workers in the public education sector and €490 for workers in the overall public sector. The average gross wage in the private education sector was almost 8% higher than in the public education sector and almost 6% higher than the average in the overall private sector – this corresponded to €428 for workers in the private education sector and €404 in the overall private sector. If teachers’ wages are not increased, schools will be unable to employ qualified staff. It can therefore be expected that LIZDA will continue to fight for higher wages for teachers.

Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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