TALLINN - The national conciliator has admitted into handling the labor dispute between teachers and the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, striving, according to the Educational Personnel Union, to find a solution to the problem of teachers' low salaries in order to prevent a strike.
The national conciliator informed the parties that the collective labor dispute between the Educational Personnel Union and the Ministry of Education and Research regarding the minimum salary for teachers for the next year has been admitted into handling. The national conciliator will meet with the parties separately in the first phase of resolving the labor dispute and, considering the results of the meetings, will plan further conciliation activities.
Reemo Voltri, leader of the union representing nearly 30,000 teachers in Estonia, said that the situation should never have reached the possibility of a strike, as the low salaries of teachers endanger the fundamental functions of the Estonian state, and it is incomprehensible that the government would ignore the education crisis in this manner.
"Employers have been saying for years that the low salary of teachers has resulted in a shortage of engineers, hence the incomes of Estonians are low and the state tax revenue is short one billion euros. Estonian schools already need thousands of qualified teachers today. Continuing this way, the transition to Estonian language education is also destined to fail embarrassingly. The education crisis is growing into a societal crisis," Voltri said.
The union leader explained that when requesting a mandate from the people this spring, all current coalition parties acknowledged that the salary of teachers, which is 25 percent lower than that of other workers with higher education, must be increased.
"It was recorded in black and white in the coalition agreement that teachers' salaries must be brought to a normal level. This is the absolute minimum -- otherwise, we will continue to lose several hundred qualified teachers every year, there are no new ones coming in and soon we will only have half the number of teachers we need," Voltri said.
"Estonian teachers are understanding and flexible, and we have proposed several solutions on how to reach the goal in equal steps within four years. We hope that reason will prevail. But if the government nonetheless intends to break its word, then apparently we have to strike to raise awareness of the education crisis," the union leader added.
In a survey commissioned by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and conducted by pollster Norstat Eesti AS, Estonians were asked about their attitude towards a possible teachers' strike and a fair salary level for teachers. 63 percent supported the possible strike, and 92 percent of respondents expressed the opinion that teachers should receive at least equivalent or higher salary compared to other specialists with higher education.
The Educational Personnel Union is the largest representative organization and trade union of teachers and other education sector workers in Estonia. The union participates in concluding agreements between educational institutions and local governments and in resolving issues concerning salary, working conditions, and other matters. The Educational Personnel Union also represents teachers in salary negotiations with the government.