Education International
Education International

Greece: at age 90 OLME is honoured for mobilising against austerity

published 22 December 2014 updated 22 December 2014

Education quality suffers and teachers' salaries no longer provide for a decent living: "I tell young colleagues who take on a job on the Greek islands that they better also learn how to fish."

The words of Themis Kotsifakis, General Secretary of the Greek Federation of Secondary State School Teachers (OLME), paint a picture of what life has been like for teachers since severe austerity swept through Greece.

Few education systems have been hit as hard by the financial crisis as the public school system of Greece. Draconic budget cuts have resulted in larger class sizes, rapidly deteriorating school buildings and insufficient teaching and learning tools.  "Education quality is suffering," says Kotsifakis, "Since 2009 many educational institutions have been closed and 28,000 teaching posts have been eliminated. In 2012, from one day to the next, two thousand vocational school teachers were suspended." Kotsifakis, who is a suspended teacher himself, says that most vacancies are not being filled, and that the few young teachers who succeed to enter the public system "are hired on a contract basis and paid by the hour".

No consultation with unions

With so many serious challenges facing the public school system, OLME's leader questions the high priority the Greek education ministry is giving to the launch of a new teachers' evaluation plan. School principals are to play a dominant role in evaluating all Greek classroom teachers, and so are the so called "teachers' counsellors" who are experts designated to advise secondary school teachers on subject matters. "We have not been consulted on this plan," says Kotsifakis. He is of the opinion that "too great emphasis is placed on accountability and evaluation, while little attention is given to teachers' professional development." The general secretary is concerned that the new evaluation scheme is being established mainly to facilitate the suspending and laying off of more teachers.

Better learn how to fish

The draconic budget cuts have caused teachers' salaries to plummet. Particularly young teachers, with less than 10 years of service, have seen their wages cut back significantly, sometimes as much as 45 percent. Effie Samara, an English language teacher says that "In 2009 with four years of service, I earned €1360 after taxes. Today, six year later, I earn €925."

"Today the starting salary of a teacher is as low as €640. That is not enough to make a living," says Kotsifakis. "I tell our young colleagues who take on a job on the Greek islands, that they better also learn how to fish."

Certificate of Commendation

In the past few years OLME has frequently mobilised its membership against the severe austerity measures imposed on Greece by the EU and IMF.

At the occasion of OLME's 90th anniversary, the union received Education International's (EI) "Certificate of Commendation", which is a new EI initiative to recognise the important work member organisations carry out to promote the interests of teachers and students.

When presenting the certificate on 21 Dec. in Athens, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen also commended OLME for defending democratic and social values throughout its history. "You have always resisted tyranny," he said. "Your organisation has suffered during the occupation by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1944, it has survived the right wing military juntas between 1967 and 1974, and today you are resisting neo liberal tyranny as it is putting the very existence of the Greek public school system at risk."

The Greek Federation of Secondary State School Teachers has 55,000 members spread over 91 local unions.