TALLINN - Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has apologized on social media to teachers for previously suggesting they should promote the upcoming car tax to achieve a salary increase.
"First and foremost, I deeply apologize for my inappropriate remark during Thursday's press conference in response to journalists' questions," Kallas wrote on Saturday. "I understand that it offended teachers when I suggested that during their strike, they should advocate for the car tax to enable the state to raise their salaries. It was an inappropriate, irrelevant, and failed statement."
"Along with the apology, I would like to provide a small explanation as to why such an idea slipped out in the first place," Kallas added. "We are in a very difficult situation with the state budget. However, I feel that both the government and I have prioritized teachers' salaries and working conditions. This is an area where we are not cutting back."
"In addition, we increased teachers' salaries by 24 percent last year during the budgeting process. This year, teachers are the only ones with a growing salary fund, in addition to the differentiation fund and starting grants, as well as additional funds for transitioning to education in the Estonian language. The elimination of the tax hump, too, will significantly boost the incomes of teachers, rescuers, and police officers in 2025."
Kallas said that Estonia ranks in the top three in the European Union in terms of its expenditures on education. The prime minister discussed this at length during the government's press conference on Thursday. Kallas believes the key to addressing teachers' concerns lies primarily in reorganizing the school network, which she deems an uncomfortable but necessary reform.
"This entire budget organization process has been clearly characterized by two things -- no social group supports any tax increase, while all demand an increase in state expenditures," she said, this time criticizing the entire population.
"Even within the coalition, agreements to improve the condition of the state budget fall apart as soon as some interest group or the media protests against a measure. This frustration, arising from such massive pressure, led me to slip in my statements," the head of government went on.
"Please understand me correctly -- what I actually wanted and tried to say was that at least one interest group could occasionally say something supportive about improving the revenue side of the state budget," the prime minister wrote in her post. "All state expenses, including teachers' salaries, come from the taxpayer's pocket. The outrage that has emerged in the tax debate shows that taxpayers do not want to pay more."
Kallas emphasized that every additional cost and salary increase for state employees -- among whom education and research workers constitute 41 percent -- means greater pressure on the taxpayer's wallet.