Thousands of public teachers stood outside the gates of the Education Ministry on Friday, calling on Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris to resign and union members refusing to go to his office to talk things out.
The protest began with a march organised by state teachers union POED, in response to a government effort to reorganise working hours for public educators in state schools. An estimated three to four thousand state educators took part in the demonstration.
The minister says the reorganisation is necessary in order to address educational needs, including a number of priorities set by the government that would undoubtedly reshuffle some working hours and shift duties within the system.
But unions are vehemently opposed to the change, saying they work already very hard and long hours and feel underappreciated for their efforts.
"It is not okay for unionists to mislead so many people by spreading misinformation and creating false impressions"
The minister accused unions of resisting change and playing dirty games.
Earlier, media reported on rumours that the minister had threatened educators at the ministry that if they took part in the demonstration they would face disciplinary action.
Hambiarouis dismissed the rumours at noon Friday.
“It is not okay for unionists to mislead so many people by spreading misinformation and creating false impressions,” the minister said.
Hambiaouris said he actually told staff, referring to educators who were seconded at the ministry, that they could join the protest freely, adding that he even wrote it on Twitter.
He also said he had his assistants call union leaders on their mobiles durign the protest to remind them he was in his office waiting to meet them, but they refused and remained outside the locked gates. The actual building was officially closed and locked down due to the summer holidays.
The protest had been originally scheduled for September but politicians and union critics called them out, daring them to march during the summer break if they wanted people to try and understand their grievances.
The minister also accused the teachers unions of interfering with government policy, saying that teachers are trying to push for their own policies and threatening to strike, while it is the government’s job to set policy and agenda.