VILNIUS, KLAIPEDA – Several thousand Lithuanian teachers launched a strike on Friday after their trade union and the Education Ministry failed to reach a deal on the pace of pay rises in the education sector.
Andrius Navickas, chairman of the Lithuanian Education Employees' Trade Union (LEETU), says that around 3,000 education workers in some 185 educational institutions are going on strike on Friday, with the number expected to increase.
Teachers are expressing their protest in schools and are planning a month-long campaign of protests and marches to Vilnius from various Lithuanian cities and towns.
On Friday at noon, teachers will hold a "lesson in civic engagement" in front of the government building in the capital.
'CRY FOR HELP'
Lilija Bruckiene, deputy chairwoman of the LEETU, was among a group of teachers who "occupied" the Education, Science, and Sport Ministry for several weeks during a teacher strike five years ago.
Now, she, along with other colleagues from the port city, is embarking on a march to Vilnius.
On Friday morning, up to a hundred teachers and students supporting them gathered in Klaipeda's Atgimimo Square, where the march was set to begin.
"Just as teachers go to classrooms, now they are going to Lithuania," Bruckiene, a teacher of Lithuanian language and literature at Klaipeda's Vydunas Gymnasium, told BNS.
Navickas is on Friday starting his march to Vilnius from Azuolo Gymnasium in the northeastern town of Zarasai.
The union's leader says they expect to walk about 15-20 kilometers daily and reach the capital in about a week.
In some Lithuanian schools, the strike will be a quiet one.
At Vilnius' Zverynas Gymnasium, there are no signs of the strike and no protest warnings on the classroom doors, even though more than 20 teachers are on strike at the school on Friday and their number is expected to double next week.
Odeta Jonikiene, a history teacher at the gymnasium, called the strike "a cry for help".
"Neither we want to strike, nor is this some kind of attraction," the teacher told BNS.
"Look at what's happening. Why aren't young people going to schools (to work as teachers)? Because they can't make ends meet," she added.
HOPING FOR COMPROMISE
The LEETU is organizing the strike after failing to reach an agreement with the Education, Science and Sport Ministry on teachers' working conditions.
The government proposes to increase teachers' salaries by a total of 21 percent in two stages next year, so that they reach 130 percent of the country's average wage by the autumn of 2024.
The ministry's proposals do not satisfy the Navickas-led union, which demanded a 20 percent increase in teachers' salaries from this September, followed by an additional 30 percent rise from next January.
"I'd like to hope that the ministry will present proposals for a compromise that will be acceptable to both sides," said Bruckiene.
"Then I won't have to walk back home," she added.
Education Minister Gintautas Jakstas told LRT Radio on Friday that he hoped to find a compromise with the striking union, but stressed that there are no additional funds to increase state financing for education.
A BNS-commissioned opinion poll by Vilmorus found earlier this month that 60 percent of the Lithuanian population supported teachers' plans to strike.