A truce agreed upon ten days ago by state teachers and the government, which aimed to help reengage in a dialogue on school reform, appears to be collapsing.
OELMEK union representative Yiannos Socratous recently told the press that consultations with Education Ministry officials cannot continue if it fails to deliver on expectations.
“After four days of intense talks, we are at a stage as you can tell by the continuous and successive consultations, where they do not appear to be fruitful to the extent we had hoped,” Socratous said.
The union leader said representatives from all three unions, including POED and OLTEK, had submitted written proposals as a response to measures introduced by the Cabinet in early July.
It is not expected that the government will back down on the teachers’ demands, as the July 4 decision is part of government policy
“We were expecting that the Education Minister would have specific answers to the measures we had proposed,” Socratous said.
On July 4, the President’s Cabinet approved a plan for the coming academic year, adding 159 additional teaching positions while also reorganising the budget in state-funded public education.
One of the main issues was the number of hours that many teachers were not spending in the classroom, including union educators who were taking paid time to carry out union work.
Teachers say the government is trying to shift some hours and take away non-instructional time in order to push for budget cuts.
But Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris said there were no plans to cut the overall budget, except to move money around in order to pay teachers for their instructional time and save up for other activities, such as dealing with student delinquency, managing school safety, and addressing health issues.
Hambiaouris said 67 educators, who either teach fewer hours or none at all because of their union activities, end up costing the state over €700,000.
Government Spokesperson Prodromos Prodromou described the Cabinet decision back in July as a way to improve on schools depending on their specific needs.
“The reorganization and rationalization will not have an impact on employment terms or positions of current teachers, except that their time will be put to better use in school,” Prodromou said.
The unions are meeting Tuesday to discuss their next step while a response from the minister is not expected until Wednesday.
It is not expected that the government will back down on the teachers’ demands, as the July 4 decision is part of government policy. But a recent truce, brokered by a secret meeting involving parents groups and reinforced by a visit to the Presidential Palace, set a new tone for negotiations.
As the unions begin to worry their demands may not be met fully, which are essentially repeated calls to the government to start talks from scratch, the time is ticking ahead of September’s start of the school year with no labour peace in sight.