Teachers strike, schools close in protest at “below average” wages

Ondrej Liska, Lukas Bern (in the background), photo: CTK

A crowd of some 2,000 teachers and other education employees held a noisy demonstration near the Education Ministry on Tuesday morning, on a day when more than half of the country’s schools closed their doors in a nationwide strike. Czech teachers are angry at what they say are insufficient pay rises in the planned 2008 education budget, pointing out that the average wage in the education sector has now fallen below the national average. Tuesday saw the appointment of a new Education Minister, Ondrej Liska, who appeared in front of the crowd and promised to take their concerns seriously. We spoke to one of the teachers attending the demonstration.

Ondrej Liska, Lukas Bern (in the background), photo: CTK
“My name’s Lukas Bern, and I’m an English teacher in a primary school. Why am I here? It’s pretty simple. I think teachers are very underpaid in this country, and I think it’s a big problem and nobody’s trying to do anything about it. So to be here is a way of showing that we don’t agree with what the government is doing.”

There are a few thousand of you here today, but only about half of the schools are closed and only about half the teachers are on strike. Can you really achieve anything if you don’t have that kind of unity?

Photo: CTK
“It’s such a sad story you know. If there is no unity there is no strength. And if there is no strength there is no chance to change anything. I really don’t understand why the other teachers don’t join us and strike with us. Lots of people just think that they can’t change anything so they can’t be bothered, and I think it’s a big problem.”

You heard the new Education Minister Ondrej Liska there, saying he was going to treat this problem seriously and talk to the unions to try and address it. Do you believe him?

“I was quite convinced by his performance, to be honest. He’s a very young minister, and I hope he was serious about what he was saying. I really hope so. We’ll see.”