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Lithuania’s striking teachers remain defiant, the Education ministry under siege

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Lithuanian Minister of Education and Science, Jurgita Petrauskienė

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

An unprecedented strike-turned-into-a-siege did not produce this week any relief for parties involved, as the group of around 20 teachers remained embedded in the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science and the authorities were visibly getting more upset about the lingering mess that already cost Jurgita Petrauskienė, the minister, her job.

Amid tensions, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis announced early this week he was sacking not only Petrauskienė, but also other two, Culture minister Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson and Kęstutis Navickas, minister of Environment.

Lithuania has recently introduced a new tenure-based pay system for teachers, replacing the old system when teachers were pay for the number of classes. Based on the new system, a teacher’s tenure makes 1,512 hours per year, and this time is divided into three parts of contacts hours, i.e., classes, preparation for them and communal work.

«Although our strike entered into fourth week, talks with the Ministry has not commenced yet, as it refuses to accept our demands,» Erika Leiputė-Stundžienė, deputy chairwoman of the Lithuanian Education Employees Trade Union (LŠDPS), told BNN.

LŠDPS demands the cancelation of the so-called «minute-based» pay system and the introduction of a tenure model where a teacher’s tenure would constitute no more than 18 contact weekly hours spent directly with schoolchildren and 18 non-contact weekly hours spent with the pupils indirectly, checking their homework, for example.

«The second thing we urge is to have teachers’ wages raised 20 per cent from the New Year, not from 2020 as the Government has proposed. We also want fewer pupils in the classes. And third, we want that kindergarten teachers be paid more for the preparatory work for the classes,» Leiputė-Stundžienė accentuated.

The trade union has called this reform «preposterous» and resented its «bulldozer-style» adoption.

«What’s been introduced is not a tenure pay system, and teachers’ hourly pay has been replaced with minute pay as school principals and teachers are now forced to meticulously evaluate every small job of theirs and also plan them for the whole upcoming year, so they are now already calculating minutes, not only hours,» Andrius Navickas, chairman of the Lithuanian Education Employees Trade Union, LŠDPS, said.

However, no one probably expected PM Skvernelis’ decision to replace three of his cabinet ministers at once– Education and Science, Culture and that of Environment. Even President Dalia Grybauskaitė, to whom the PM intends to hand the dismissal documents, stated that she only has no doubt about the dismissal of Jurgita Petrauskienė, but regarding the other ministers’ unsuitability to hold office, she expects to hear arguments

«The president heard the prime minister out, and also spoke to the ministers and will make decision shortly,» her spokeswoman Daiva Ulbinaitė was quoted as saying early this week.

Skvernelis argued he has trust in the three ministers but wants to replace them to give fresh impetus to the reforms being carried out in the areas of education, culture and environment.

Analysts believe a prolonged standoff between the PM and the President can shake the Government’s foundation significantly.

Under the coalition agreement by the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union and the Social Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, the former a candidate for minister of education and science. Nominates.

Around 20 teachers have entrenched themselves in the Ministry, with more than 100 schools across the country participating in the strike.

«Many of the schools (that participate in the strike) are best in the country in terms of the teachers’ skills and their accomplishments,» the LŠDPS executive noted.

According to her, until now, the teachers in the Ministry were provided food by their colleagues and, in some cases, by the relatives, but the Lithuanian authorities decided Wednesday (December 5) not to let anybody in with provisions.

Three other trade-unions representing teachers signed an agreement with the Ministry to pave way for negotiations, but LŠDPS as well as the other one has remained defiant and continued to insist that all the three demands were included in talks.

«Those agreements that were imitated on Tuesday (December 4) have nothing to do with our demands, therefore, the strike will continue and we are staying inside the ministry and waiting for negotiations on our demands,» Navickas, said on Wednesday.

Outgoing Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė and the trade unions held discussions last week on ways to amend the new pay system but the majority of Navickas’ demands were not discussed due to differences in the positions regarding the demand to raise pay coefficients for teachers by a fifth.

Petrauskienė called on the government to continue the started reforms, adding, however, she had not considered resigning despite disputes with striking teachers.

«I believe the government has to take the whole responsibility to continue its work,» she told journalists.

Petrauskienė heard some more bad news after the ouster, with the Chief Official Ethics Commission unanimously deciding on Wednesday, December 5, that she breached the law when she failed to declare her husband Evaldas Petrauskas’ business transactions and did not distance herself from decision-making at the ministry and subordinate institutions,

The ethic watchdog concluded that upon assuming her ministerial position, Petrauskienė should have declared a transaction with a commercial bank, as well as her husband’s position in Ecotour. The minister also failed to mention her husband’s position in Betonus in her declaration of private and public interests, as well as one of her husband’s source of income.

It was also concluded that Petrauskienė approved various bonuses paid to the heads of the institutions subordinate to the ministry, whose public procurement tenders her husband won.

Speaking of the teacher demands, the government says it would need around 300 million euros to satisfy them. The trade unions, however, says the amount is blown out.

«We’ll be inviting economists and experts to the negotiations and will ask them to evaluate those calculations the ministry provided, and also ways to implement them. We believe these figures are too big and are aimed at misleading the society,» Navickas said.

«Our demands are not political, they are purely economic,» Leiputė-Stundžienė underscored to BNN.

Skvernelis said earlier this week additional teachers could be hired to substitute striking teachers and restore the education process.

He also came in support of the ongoing education reform, saying that it will continue no matter who holds the post of education and science minister.

«A reform of the education system is currently underway. All similar reforms have met with resistance, and solutions have brought fruit in the form of rising teacher salaries and a pay system,» Skvernelis said.

Meanwhile, President Grybauskaitė has said the situation in the education system is spiralling out of control and reforms are being carried out in an arrogant manner.

Some teachers across Lithuania started an indefinite strike action on November 12 to press their demand to scrap a new pay system in place since September.

With the Ministry under the striking teachers’ siege, Vytautas Bakas, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence, has accused the police of inactivity over the teachers who have been staging a protest inside the Ministry since the last week.

«I definitely do not approve of using force and calling protesting people terrorists but I believe it’s also unprofessional to hide one’s head in the sand when one needs to act. The police should at least provide an assessment of the situation and to remind and explain to the people violating the law that they need to comply,» Bakas posted on Facebook.

In his words, «today hardly anyone has doubts that the Law on Meetings is being violated, and even the strike-meeting organizers start to realize that».

Stalemate between the teacher trade unions and the authorities seemed to stretch into the new week.


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