IT WAS astonishing yesterday hearing the head of secondary school teaching union Oelmek, accusing the primary school teaching union Poed, of resorting to blackmail. The head of Oelmek Demetris Taliadoros, speaking on state radio yesterday morning, had the nerve to claim that Poed had secured many more teaching positions for primary schools by blackmailing the education minister.
Taliadoros has obviously never heard of the saying about “people in glass houses”. The state education system has been shaped by the blackmail of the teaching unions that have been systematically using the threat of strikes to impose their views and demands on successive governments, none of which dare stand up to them. No other part of the public sector threatens strikes and work stoppages with the regularity of the teachers both of primary and secondary schools. A school year rarely goes by without several threats of industrial action being made by Poed and Oelmek, because they know this is a sure-fire way of getting what they want.
We have a low standard state education system that has been consistently letting down generations of school-children because it has been created, through union blackmail, to serve teachers rather students. Short school days, an abundance of public and religious holidays, short terms and the reduction of teaching hours after so many years of service makes Cypriot teachers the most underworked in the EU. They have 500 teaching hours per school year compared to the EU average of 700, according to the auditor-general, and they are the second best paid in the union. Primary schools have two head-teachers (one for the first three grades and one for the second three), while hundreds of teachers are seconded to the education ministry.
Education takes a big chunk of the state budget, but our students are among the worst-performing in international surveys comparing standards among countries and private afternoon lessons are a massive industry. This is because state education has been designed by unions, regularly resorting to blackmail, to offer an easy and well-paid career to teachers. And now Oelmek is protesting because the blackmail used by Poed was more effective – more teaching positions were opened in primary schools – than its own. Taliadoros has been complaining that only 23 out of 200 new posts were for secondary teachers, as if it were up to the union to decide what the teaching needs of the state schools are. Surely this is the exclusive responsibility of the employer – in this case the state – which has the power to organise its staff in whatever way it chooses. But as the unions have always been calling the shots they do not like it when they do not get their way.
So now Oelmek is threatening “dynamic action” at schools as soon as they open, unless the education ministry changed its staffing plans for secondary schools. Could this be blackmail?