Education International
Education International

Iceland: Strike over better conditions for teachers

published 18 March 2014 updated 25 March 2014

Following on the failure of negotiations on a new collective agreement for secondary school teachers, EI’s national affiliate, the Kennarasamband Islands (KI), called on its members, upper secondary teachers employed by the state, to go on strike on 17 March.

KI organises upper secondary schools, including vocational education teachers, employed by the state at the national level, as well as early childhood and primary school teachers covered by separate collective agreements and employed at a different level.

The previous agreement for secondary school teachers expired on 31 January 2014 and, after 30 bargaining meetings which started on 22 November 2013 without reaching an agreement, the strike was called for and started on the morning of 17 March.

Need to boost salaries

This strike aims to improve secondary teachers’ salaries. According to KI, teachers now earn an average of 17 per cent less than other groups of university educated workers in the state public sector.

KI underlined that the collective agreement is not only about improving teachers’ wages, but also enhancing education and school environments for the good of society. In order for generations who will inherit the country to receive the education they are entitled to, teachers must have fair and just wages and safe working environments, the unions added.

Ongoing negotiations

“The state mediator is involved, and concerned parties are talking together and willing to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” said KI President Thordur A. Hjaltested. “KI demands a salary raise up to 17 per cent for its members teaching in upper secondary schools. Our claim is based on last autumn’s study on how salaries in Iceland have developed since 2006. This study showed that teachers’ salaries have not increased as much as the ones in other professions.

“Secondly, we ask for higher salaries because of the 2008 law change requesting a Master degree for individuals to get a licence to teach at all school levels. And thirdly, in its latest Programme for International Student Assessment’s report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned Iceland that because the salary difference between teachers and other university-level professions is too large, young people are not interested in becoming teachers and choose other professions.”

He added that the government’s negotiating committee is offering a 2.8 per cent salary increase. The Minister of Education has said that the only way for teachers to get more than 2.8 per cent is to accept changes in working hours and other system changes, like changing the upper secondary school from a four-year school to a three-year school.

EI: Support for colleagues

“We support KI in their struggle to ensure decent living and working conditions for teachers, and therefore quality education for all children,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We call on Iceland’s public authorities to go on negotiating in good faith, and reach an agreement as soon as possible with organisations representing education personnel.”