Teachers strike over pay demand

Teachers in Slovakia staged a one-day strike on 13 September 2012 in support of their demand for a 10% pay increase. The government agreed that the teachers had a legitimate case for a rise and offered them 5%, saying economic difficulties made a higher increase impossible. Unions turned down the offer, and called an all-out strike from 26 November 2012. Teachers agreed to go back to work three days later, but continued industrial action while negotiations went on with the government.

Day of action

On 13 September 2012, teachers in Slovakia held a one-day strike in support of a 10% pay increase. Teachers in schools, kindergartens and universities walked out between 08.00 and 18.00 after the strike was called by the Trade Union Association of Workers in Education and Science (OZPŠaV).

Large numbers of teachers and non-teaching staff took part in the strike in the Bratislava, Nitra and Košice regions. In most regions, approximately 90% of elementary schools, 70% of secondary schools and around 30% of universities were affected by the strike.

It was the biggest strike since 2003, when teachers won a 7% salary increase. In 2011, teachers earned around 90% of the average wage in Slovakia.

After the day of action, representatives of the strikers called for negotiations with the government. They said if no agreement was reached, they would consider further action, including a long-term strike.

Government’s compromise proposal

After negotiations between the union and the government, the Slovakian Ministry of Finance (MF SR) put forward its own proposal. It said while it recognised the validity of the teachers’ claims, the difficult economic situation meant a 10% increase was not possible. The need to consolidate public finances meant the government could only offer a 5% rise. This would apply to teachers in public, church and private elementary and secondary schools. The increase would also apply to some of the non-teaching staff, such as cooks and janitors. The government proposed that rises should be implemented from January 2013.

According to the Minister of Finance, Peter Kažimír, the 5% offer would increase the expenses of the state budget by more than €60 million in 2013. It would translate to an increase of about €36 in a teacher’s average gross monthly salary.

Teachers reject offer and underline demands

After reviewing the government proposals, the trade unions repeated their demand for a 10% increase. Their stated objective was to raise teachers’ salaries by between €100 and €160 per month by 2015.

According to Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Róbert Fico, the government’s ability to meet the legitimate demands of the teachers was limited by the need to consolidate the public finances. Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič added that the government was willing to increase teachers’ pay at a time when the salaries of other public service employees were being frozen due to the crisis.

The teachers’ strike committee decided that a time-unlimited strike would be called, beginning on 26 November 2012. Union President Pavel Ondek estimated that as many as 150,000 education employees would take part in the strike.

Some schools’ representatives were sceptical whether the strike would force the government to accept the teachers’ demands. They questioned Ondek’s estimate of the likely numbers of strikers, since strikers would not be paid, and they were also unsure how long teachers would be willing to stay out on strike. Nevertheless, the strike went ahead on 26 November 2012.

Although the all-out strike was called off after three days, protests and industrial action continued alongside further union and government negotiations.

Commentary

The teachers’ strike, like most strikes in Slovakia, did not comply with the Collective Bargaining Act which states that withdrawal of labour is considered to be an extreme way of seeking resolution of any labour dispute that arises out of collective bargaining. In order to settle collective labour disputes, mediation and conciliation procedures should precede the decision to strike.

This did not happen with the teachers. The teachers’ action was based on the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, which stipulates the right to strike as one of the fundamental rights of citizens.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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