Education International
Education International

Greece: solidarity with teachers as their trade union rights are undermined

published 15 May 2013 updated 17 May 2013

EI and its European organisation, the ETUCE, have expressed solidarity with Greek teachers and their union in their call to maintain their right to strike. EI General Secretary Fred Van Leeuwen has formally asked the Greek Prime Minister Samaras to uphold the civil rights of teachers in the interests of the Greek education system.

Greece is facing an unprecedented austerity programme imposed as part of the bailout conditions drawn up by the Troika (International Monetary Fund [IMF], European Commission and European Central Bank). The teachers’ union, OLME, says that the austerity cuts are effectively destroying the welfare state with tragic consequences for education and society as a whole.

ILO conventions must be honoured EI and its members have always believed that recommendations from international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, European Union or development banks, should take into account the obligations of States concerning International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.

Collective agreements must be respected and any economic-stabilisation measures, particularly in relation to labour standards and wages, are only admissible on condition that they have been subject to prior consultations with workers’ organisations and are applied as an exceptional measure and limited in time.

Changes imposed as part of the conditions for Troika financial support, under the terms of the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) and its subsequent revisions, have fundamentally altered the bargaining structure, dismantling a system which had evolved since 1990.

Cuts, freezes, lay-offs EI and the ETUCE have already condemned the heavy wage and pension reductions and three-year minimum rates’ freeze, mass lay-offs of teachers, education budget cuts and other measures which jeopardise the future of the Greeks.

There has been a 60 per cent decrease in the funding of school committees and parents are being called upon to contribute more financially. Many schools will not be able to purchase heating oil in the winter.

Almost 2000 school units in both primary and secondary education will be merged, without any prior dialogue with the teaching profession and local communities. There will be further closures and mergers in the future.

Many other education support and special education services, including sports schools, libraries, special support schools, youth centres, art, civic education and ICT courses have been closed.

Falling number of teachers While class sizes and teaching hours are increasing, the number of teachers has declined. Between the 2010 and 2011 academic years, there has been a 12 per cent reduction in the teaching workforce and there are now 16,000 fewer teachers.

Many unemployed teachers are now signing service contracts with educational non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their services are then ‘contracted' by the municipalities.

Public sector workers have so far enjoyed the right to strike although they must give four days’ notice. The Government’s attempt to prevent trade unions from exercising a right to strike action is an erosion of the basic civil and democratic rights of teachers.

Originally intended to be used in situations related to natural disasters or wars, the Government’s mobilisation order is threatening Greek teachers with possible imprisonment or dismissal if it is disobeyed.

EI and OECD viewpoints EI’s General Secretary has called on the government of Greece to strengthen democracy by listening to the social partners through improved institutional social dialogue.

At the OECD/EI International Teacher Summit in April 2013, the OECD clearly stated that “ The better a country’s education system performs, the more likely that that country is working constructively with its unions and treating its teachers as trusted professional partners.

Virtually all the top-performing countries on international education measures have strong teacher unions, including Finland, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

Meanwhile, Greek teachers and their unions continue to fight to maintain their rights in the workplace out of their primary concern for the quality of education.