Teachers are more optimistic after an announcement by Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski condemning the pressure exerted on teacher union members, and urging education officials and union leaders to get back to the negotiating table and come to a mutually agreeable solution to the current strike.
Elementary and secondary school teachers from the Trade Union of Employees in Education, Science and Culture (SONK) are continuing their strike this week, despite the intense pressure they were facing from education authorities.
Branimir Strukelj, a member of the Executive Board of Education International and president of the Slovenian Teachers Union, travelled to the Macedonian capital of Skopje and spoke on behalf of EI at a press conference organized 1 December by SONK leaders. There he told journalists that EI is "deeply concerned about the recent developments."
"We are displeased with the pressure by school principals and other institutions on teachers and the rest of staff in schools," Strukelj said, adding that such a pressure is unacceptable and not in line with the European social model.
Strukelj defended the right of all workers to take strike action if necessary, and said that any attempt to impose sanctions on a trade union conducting a legitimate strike is a violation of the principle of freedom of association and of ILO Convention 98.
“It [going on strike] is the last resort that teachers have in defence of their rights, when all other means and methods have been exhausted,” he said. “A strike is painful for everyone, but we strongly believe that SONK members have used all means at their disposal to avoid it.”
The teachers went on strike 24 November after the government reneged on earlier commitments in collective agreements for both elementary and secondary education.
The Ministry of Education and Science had agreed that salary increases negotiated in the latest round of collective bargaining would take effect on 1 January 2009. However, now the Ministry proposes to delay implementation until 1 January 2010, a move that is unacceptable to the teachers. SONK members believe that the Ministry’s action is in violation of a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court.
SONK leader Dojcin Cvetanovski said that progress has been made in the talks with government officials, but no agreement has yet been reached.
"We made an effort and I believe we are close to reaching a mutually agreeable solution as to the causes of the strike, but still I cannot tell whether we are close or far from a solution. Therefore, the strike will continue in the coming days," Cvetanovski said.