Raising their voices to be heard loud and clear, thousands of teachers demonstrated in front of government offices to put an end to five years of salary freezes in the education sector.
Education International's (EI) European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), supported the Lithuanian teachers and unions on 18 June, and forced the Government to engage in negotiations leading to a signed agreement on teachers’ employment, salaries and quality.
The ETUCE Director Martin Rømer met with the Education Minister, as well as the Prime Minister, on the day of the demonstration. “It is extremely urgent that the Lithuanian Government takes responsibility for the quality of the education system and makes the necessary changes, including up-scaling teachers’ salaries,” Rømer said at a press conference.
“The Government needs to invite all parties to discuss all these complicated issues in a package. These negotiations could improve the teachers’ salaries and quality.”
During his meeting with the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Rømer directly criticised the Government for being unaware of worrying developments in the education sector and called for a comprehensive reform negotiated with trade unions.
For the first time in two years, the Prime Minister accepted that trade unions should be involved and all issues put on the negotiating table. He acknowledged that the Government is ultimately responsible for ensuring quality education and call for a National Plan 2020. This breakthrough follows two years of unsuccessful attempts by trade unions to engage in a dialogue with the Prime Minister to get the Government to understand that education was the Government’s responsibility.
Insecure working conditions
The latest teachers’ demonstration was just the latest manifestation of many years of frustration as the Lithuanian education system scores lower and lower on international surveys. In addition, the teachers’ employment structure is out of date with an over-reliance on part-time year-to-year contracts without any guarantee for employment the following year.
Twenty per cent of the education workforce is filled by already retired teachers - this impedes the employment of new teachers, as the numbers of pupils and students drops due to demographics and immigration. In addition, there are moves to decentralise the responsibility for education in favour of local communities. This has led to confusion within education, where nobody actually knows who has the responsibility for what functions.