Teachers protest against "devaluation" of profession
Several hundred representatives of employees in education, culture and science gathered in front of the government building on 25 October to protest against what they see as devaluation of their work and the government's proposal meant to deal with wage disparities.
The teachers' trade union SVIZ called the rally after receiving the proposal from the government that it says does nothing to eliminate wage disparities but would carry them over into the emerging new pay system and even exacerbate them.
The disparities arose after some other groups of public sector employees managed to negotiate higher pay in the past but not those in education and some other groups.
The government presented a €847 million proposal to tackle wage disparities across the public sector and adjustment of jobs to a new wage system in September under Public Administration Minister Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, who has since resigned.
The idea was to conclude talks by mid-October but while some groups such as doctors were in favour of the proposal, unions in education and those representing health and social care workers other than doctors are opposed. The wage system reform is to come into effect in 2025, a year later than initially planned.
Strike an option
Taking to the streets, the teachers' union threatened that if the government fails to take their grievances into account this time, more people will gather next time, when it might not be a rally but a strike.
The union demands pay rises for employees in education, science and culture, and the preservation of current job titles in education and culture, as well as regular adjustment of base pay across the sector to inflation.
They believe pay disparities in the bottom third of pay brackets should be tackled as a priority, especially for the lowest paid public sector employees, such as cleaners, cooks and janitors, said Marjana Kolar, head of the main SVIZ committee.
They oppose the government's proposal to freeze the talks on wage brackets by 1 January 2028 and the proposed shortening of annual leave.
SVIZ head Branimir Štrukelj argued there was more at stake than just wages, asserting that that the devaluation of the pedagogical, research and creative professions was endangering the quality of life in the future.
"Compared to the price that our society will pay for this foolishness, for the devaluation of job titles, saving a few millions in the budget is absolutely absurd and at the same time a telling depiction of the government's short-sightedness," said Štrukelj.
Support from other unions
The union received support from several other unions, including the KSJS confederation of public sector trade unions, the Higher Education Trade Union, ZSSS trade union confederation and the Glosa union.
"With all means available we will fight for the elimination of wage disparities, ... adjusting wages to inflation and a better, fairer wage system," said KSJS vice-president Irena Ilešič Čujovič.
Jakob Počivavšek, one of the chief negotiators for some of the trade unions not including SVIZ, criticised the government for its proposals and delays in public sector wage talks.
The Public Administration Ministry, which is responsible for wage talks and is currently headed by the finance minister as a stand-in, said it was hard to understand the reasoning for the rally, because it was the unions which said they were not going to attend talks until the conditions for the continuation of negotiations were met.
The ministry hopes for the talks to resume and complete as soon as possible.
Education in crisis
The rally follows after the union recently pointed to what Štrukelj called the "worst and most complex crisis" in education since independence, which is reflected in severe staff shortages. The union estimates that several thousand teaching posts are vacant.
It quoted OECD data showing that Slovenia earmarked 4.6% of its GDP for educational institutions in 2020, which compares to 5.1% in OECD countries.
Most of OECD countries face teaching staff shortages, but Slovenian teachers are paid less than their OECD counterparts at all levels of education and they are among the oldest even as the teaching population across the OECD is getting increasingly old, the union said.
Maths, physics and computer science teachers are in particularly short supply with SVIZ saying the reason is low pay.