Czech teachers to strike against poor conditions in education sector

Ondrej Liska and Martin Bursik, photo: CTK

Following the weekend, it is clear that nothing will now prevent a teachers’ strike from going ahead on Tuesday: acting Education Minister Martin Bursik and the candidate for the post, Ondrej Liska, tried to stave off the planned protest by pledging to improve conditions in the education sector, but it was too little, too late. The December 4th strike will go ahead. It has been estimated that at least half of the country’s schools will remain closed.

Ondrej Liska and Martin Bursik, photo: CTK
The last time teachers went on strike in the Czech Republic seeking a salary increase was four years ago - at that time only around half of the country’s schools took part. This Tuesday, education representatives have promised, the strike will be broader, for the first time including kindergartens and daycare services, all to protest the state of the education sector. The unions are opposed to a cut in expenditures and fear a lack of funds next year for kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools. They have since called for an increase of 3 billion crowns (around 168 million US dollars) for salaries in next year’s Education Ministry budget, but so far, without success. The unions did receive a promise of an extra one billion from Green Party representatives, but the sum is being viewed as not enough. The head of the teacher’s unions Frantisek Dobsik made clear the strike, despite last-minute conciliatory efforts by acting minister Martin Bursik and the Greens’ candidate for education minister, Ondrej Liska, would go ahead:

“We want to make clear that the strike is not about the incoming education minister: it’s a strike in favour of schooling, a good education system, and satisfied students. The satisfaction needed is missing, and the one billion, and it’s not even that, it’s 933 million crowns, is just a ‘Band-Aid’ solution. I want to stress that we will not hold students hostage: it is us, as employees in the education sector, who are have been held hostage for a very long time.”

Despite the strong words, it is unclear whether the strike will achieve the desired results: the Green Party’s Martin Bursik has already responded by saying that the government will not be bullied into “giving money from the state budget”.

Continued low pay for teachers, which averages 14,000 or 15,000 crowns per month for starting salaries, is not the only problem that teachers want addressed: many would like to see changes in the sector to better reward teachers for individual effort. That means school principals would be able to raise salaries to properly mirror output and performance. Currently teachers are paid according to a pay scale that recognises professional qualification and seniority, but does little to reward initiative: innovative projects or extra work. As it stands, most Czech teachers now feel – at least from a financial perspective – that their profession is not rewarding enough.