Teachers go on strike on first day of school


The doors of approximately one half of Czech primary and secondary schools remained closed on Monday morning as more than 70,000 teachers and other school employees called a one day token strike in protest at low wages. School unions are calling on the government, currently trying to push through substantial cuts in spending, to maintain their end-of-year bonuses and to increase teachers' salaries to at least 30 percent above the average wage in the Czech Republic.

Education Minister Petra Buzkova, photo: CTK
Only about a half of Czech schoolchildren and high school students listened to the traditional speech that the Education Minister reads every year on the radio on September 1st, the first day of the new school year in this country. Education Minister Petra Buzkova did not mention Monday's strike in her address. She says she has done all she could for teachers within the government which say it cannot find any extra finances in its already tight budget.

One of the schools that decided to join Monday's strike is a primary school in Vodickova Street in Prague. I spoke to English teacher Hana Kotikova.

"I'm not one hundred percent convinced the strike will really help but on the other hand, this is one of the possible ways to show, to express that teachers are not and will not be so submissive as they were during the totalitarian regime. I think that the system in society is not good because the professions that deal with goods are higher paid than people who are responsible for human life. It means not only doctors and nurses but also teachers - they are responsible for children during the time they spend at school, and sometimes it is quite a hard task."

While the opposition Communists support the teachers' demands, and opposition Civic Democrats blame the situation on a poor system of financing, politicians from the governing coalition have expressed their disagreement with Monday's strike, also pointing out its bad timing. Teacher Hana Kotikova says she believes it is right that the strike has taken place.

Czech president Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"It is a question if it is a good time to strike now but maybe the sooner, the better. But it is the way to show we are not satisfied. I would also like to know - but of course I will never get the answer - if the Social Democrat Party leaders knew beforehand they would not be able to keep their promises about teachers' salaries."

According to public opinion polls, around 30 percent of Czech parents are in favour of the teachers' strike and almost two thirds disagree with such a method of protest. Some argue that teachers are taking the children hostage and causing trouble for parents who have to somehow take care of their kids on Monday. Hana Kotikova from a Prague primary school says that is not such a big problem.

"I have my own son who is seven years old and will just start the first class - I have him here at school with me because his school is on strike as well. I think it will not be such a problem for parents. It is a question of only a few hours."

On Monday morning the striking teachers were also joined by some other public sector employees, such as land registry and tax-revenue officers who went on strike for just one hour to protest at their low wages.