Teachers and doctors Trade Unions on strike alert

Teachers in the Czech Republic are ready to go on strike. Quite recently, the government had promised to increase their wages but because of a new draft budget which envisages a lower deficit than originally planned, the cabinet postponed pay rises for public sector employees from January to April. Alena Skodova has the details.

By postponing pay rises for public sector workers the cabinet will save 1.5 billion crowns, that's around 40 million US dollars. Doctors' and teachers' wages are much lower than those of their colleagues in EU countries. A teacher in the Czech Republic earns around 13,700 crowns or 400 hundred US dollars a month, below the national average. I spoke with the chairman of the Teachers' Trade Union, Jaroslav Rossler, and started by asking him if this was the first broken promise from the cabinet:

"No, it's not their first promise broken, although I must acknowledge that the Social Democrat cabinet has raised teacher's salaries by 41 percent. But at the same time, we were told during negotiations with the Minister of Social Affairs, Vladimir Spidla, that basic salaries would be increased by 10 percent as of January 2002. This term was postponed by the cabinet till April without any prior consultation with the teachers' trade unions or discussion at a tripartite meeting between representatives of the cabinet, employers and employees."

The teachers' unions have said they will not repeat the mistake they made in 1997 when all teachers went on strike. So what form will next year's strike have?

"So far it's only a proposal of our trade union officials, but it should have quite a different form. At the moment, we have no strength to organize a strike throughout the whole country, and in our experience nation-wide strikes do nothing more than save money from the state coffers. During our nation-wide one-day strike back in 1997 the government saved tens of millions of crowns on wages they didn't pay us for that day, and they redistributed the money elsewhere. So our next strike will involve a far smaller number of teachers, whom we'll be able to defend legally and who will help us to achieve our goals more effectively."

This could involve, for instance, refusing to issue children's end-of-term reports or blocking school leaving exams at secondary schools. Teachers' trade unions are also considering an 'occupation strike' which proved successful in Czech TV at the beginning of this year. The government could find itself facing huge pressure in the coming months, not only from teachers but also from other public sector workers. Doctors and other health workers, who have also seen their pay claims disappointed are promising similar action.