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Thousands of Ukrainian teachers on strike for decent salaries

Author : Iryna Shostak

Teachers oppose the new certification initiative, the abolition of allowances and the introduction of a 40-hour workweek
19:01, 31 October 2019

Thousands of Ukrainian teachers have gathered near the parliament building in Kyiv with a demand for establishing decent salaries. Teachers oppose the certification initiative, the abolition of allowances and the introduction of a 40-hour workweek. Participants in the rally promise large-scale strikes throughout Ukraine if the authorities cut the allowances. What made teachers come to the strike and could the protesters find a compromise with the government?

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October 29, thousands of people came out to protest, they gathered near the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada under the slogans “Teachers should have a decent European salary”, “Away with bureaucracy from education!”, “Power should stop destroying Ukraine” and others.

“We constantly talk about bullying in schools, we teach children not to do it, but today the authorities constantly humiliate us. There is bullying in relation to teachers,” says Serhiy Berendeyev, a history teacher at Kyiv lyceum No. 157.

The peak, which forced teachers to unite and talk about their rights, was the initiative for the draft law "On full general secondary education" (which was voted in the first reading) from parliamentarians from Holos faction, lead by singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk.

Related: How to understand education reforms in Ukraine?

What is a teacher’s salary today?

Before considering the essence of the problem, which resulted in a large-scale rally, we need to figure out what teachers' salaries are today and how exactly they are calculated.

The minimum official salary (tariff rate) cannot be less than the subsistence minimum (77 USD);

The employee’s salary for the fulfilled monthly (hourly) labor rate cannot be lower than the minimum wage (170 UAH).

Every month for many years, teachers receive their salaries according to the Unified Tariff Schedule according to their tariff category. That is, the higher the rank of the post, its complexity and responsibility, the greater will be the official salary of the employee. Just multiply the size of the subsistence minimum (77 USD in 2019) by the tariff coefficient corresponding to the tariff category.

More than half of teachers' salaries are bonuses: for classroom management, checking notebooks, managing the classroom, professional growth, and others. It is thanks to these allowances and surcharges that teachers can receive not 130-150 USD, but 260 - 300 USD.

According to the Law "On Education", adopted in 2017, the official salary of a teacher of the lowest qualification category is set at three minimum wages (accordingly, the salary of teachers should reach 500 USD per month). And the salary of a teacher in each next qualification category should increase by at least 10 percent. However, according to the estimates of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, sources of covering costs in the State budget of the country are still missing. Therefore, since the introduction of changes should take place within the limits of the State budget, it was determined that the implementation of the provisions of Part 2 of Article 61 of this law will be phased until 2023, while providing for an annual increase in the salary of a teacher of the lowest qualification category to four living wages for the able-bodied persons in proportion to the size of the increase in revenues of the State budget.

At the beginning of 2018, the government decided to increase the remuneration of teachers, and from January 1, 2018, teachers who are paid at the expense of the educational subvention from the state budget to local budgets should have already received a higher salary (by 10 percent), who would improve their situation and bring them closer to the promised salaries.

Related: Ukraine's Cabinet cuts 2018 education quotas

However, having examined several examples, it can be understood that the salary rate of young teachers without allowances will not even reach the minimum salary level for 2019 (170 USD) - teachers of the 9th, 10th and 11th tariff categories on the Unified tariff grid should would receive 150 USD, 155 USD UAH and 170 USD respectively.

On July 10, 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a Decree which removed teachers' salaries from the Unified Tariff Schedule and tied them more precisely to the fulfillment of the provisions of the Law "On Education" (teacher remuneration by 2023 should rise to the level of 4 living wages). The current minimum salary is 1.73 living wages.

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According to the rules of the new teacher compensation system, in 2020 this salary will amount to 2.5 living wages, in 2021 it will be at the level of 3.0 living wages, in 2022 - 3.5, from January 2023 - 4.0 living wages for able-bodied persons. Moreover, each next category of pedagogical workers will grow by 10% compared with the previous one.

And although the teachers had many legitimate concerns about all the promises (the new government did not budget for the increase stipulated by the decree in the 2020 budget), the salaries, thanks to the allowances and various surcharges, more or less satisfied the education workers, provided that the promised increase was stable.

On May 30, MPs adopted a draft law "On Full General Secondary Education", which was supposed to contribute to the achievement of a number of strategic goals, in particular: improving the quality of general secondary education; the formation in students of the necessary competencies for life; the development of educational institutions of all forms of ownership and the like. In the summer, a working group, which included the side of the Trade Union of Education and Science of Ukraine, completed all the amendments, and the bill was ready for a second reading.

Related: Ukraine's education law 'semi-fascist', - Hungarian official

Reasons for the protest

After the new parliament began work on the second reading of the law "On Secondary Education", the Profile Committee received many letters of appeal from the MPs who proposed a number of their comments and changes that, in their opinion, would improve the state of things in the field of education. The authors of one of these packages of initiatives, which caused a lot of discussion, debate, and objection, were the elected representatives of the Holos party.

According to them, just such changes will be able to contribute to the effective work of the teacher, as well as his professional development and increase in the level of wages:

  • abolition of surcharges for certain types of the pedagogical activity, scientific degrees and academic ranks, allowances for seniority (to remove from article 61 of the educational law the rules on the establishment of additional payments for academic degrees and academic ranks by scientific and pedagogical workers, monthly allowances for seniority, a monthly supplement for certification);
  • introduction of mandatory certification for all teachers working in institutions of general secondary education, for the implementation of educational activities;
  • An introduction for educators 40-hour workweek;
  • Transfer of teachers of retirement age to a fixed-term employment contract, which is concluded for a period of one to 3 years.

The biggest storm of emotions was caused by the paragraph on the abolition of allowances and surcharges, which, we recall, prevail in the salary over the actual rate for teachers.  According to MP Inna Sovsun, it’s precisely humiliating for teachers to control how many notebooks have been checked and if the documentation for the chemistry room has been filled out correctly, which is extremely ineffective in terms of the quality of teaching.

Another issue that causes outrage is mandatory certification, which replaced the certification.

In addition, teachers are concerned about whether certification will become a lever of administrative pressure on the teacher, how honest and objective it will be. After all, certification tests the knowledge of psychology, education, and legislation.

Related: Ukrainian students tend to show worsening English skills, - Education Minister

Also, MPs want to revive healthy competition by re-creating all the conditions - increasing the difference between qualification categories (now 5%). Such an initiative should motivate employees to grow professionally. Moreover, parliamentarians offer to pay for confirmed qualifications, and not for years of work.

In their opinion, all this will contribute to healthy competition, a transparent salary system, eliminate the pursuit of allowances and, in the end, will really reward for quality work.

The participants protested against the authorities' intentions to narrow labor and socio-economic rights and guarantees of employees of educational institutions instead of fulfilling the requirements of Art. 61 of the Law of Ukraine "On Education".

Experts also recalled the Cabinet of Ministers Decree of 10.07.2019 No. 822 "On the remuneration of pedagogical, scientific, pedagogical and scientific workers", which provided for the establishment of the official salary of a teacher of the lowest qualification category at the level of 2.5 costs of living.

As a result, the participants of the action organized by the Trade Union of Education and Science of Ukraine put forward their demands to the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine:

  • provide for education costs in the amount of at least 7% of the gross domestic product, in accordance with Article 78 of the Law of Ukraine "On Education";
  • amend the Code of Labor Laws of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine "On Remuneration of Labor" regarding the exclusion from the size of the minimum wage of surcharges, allowances, bonuses, remuneration, and other payments;
  • take into account the comments of the trade union side.

Set the official salary of an employee of the 1st tariff category in an amount not less than the minimum wage.

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Speech by leader of the Holos faction Svyatoslav Vakarchuk before the protesters

The protesters, representatives of the Holos party Svyatoslav Vakarchuk and MP Inna Sovsun were also present at the rally. Vakarchuk tried to convey to teachers that his political force would never advocate worsening working conditions and lower salaries, which means that amendments that humiliate teachers will be removed.

Position of the ministry

During the rally on October 29, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine Anna Novosad was on a business trip in Mariupol, Donetsk region, where, while communicating with the press, she noted that the Ministry of Education and Science will not support the amendments of the Holos party to the bill “On full general secondary education”, providing for the introduction of a 40-hour workweek for teachers. In her opinion, the amendment is poorly designed and does not explain how teachers will be protected during the functioning of such a system, how these hours will be taken into account, and the like.

However, the minister also noted that she agrees that the teachers ’remuneration system needs to be reformed: "It’s an abnormal situation when the allowances in terms of teachers' wages may prevail over the salary - this makes teachers vulnerable to abuse by local authorities and the administration schools."

Related: Ukraine's new Cabinet: All you need to know about Minister of Education Anna Novosad

Therefore, given the minister’s statements, one can try to predict possible changes that will be proposed for discussion from the Ministry of Education and Science on the basis of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Science, Education, and Innovation:

  • law "On full general secondary education" should create more opportunities and tools for the successful work of teachers, and not additionally regulate their work;
  • amendments will be proposed regarding allowances, subject to the introduction of separate allowances for teachers' salaries in the official salary, from which all further salary growth will be calculated;
  • government and the Verkhovna Rada must comply with the transitional provisions of the Law on Education and by 2023 ensure the lowest official salary for a teacher at 4 living wages.

The past government has embarked on a reform of the Ukrainian school, while the new one has confirmed this course. However, without the financial support of teachers, it is unlikely that reformers will be able to build a new educational system because the level of remuneration is one of the key incentives for replenishing the teaching staff and increasing its professional level.

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