The public spat between the education ministry and state primary school teachers which led to a one-hour work stoppage on Wednesday is ongoing with union Poed insisting there are staff shortages and minister Costas Kadis asking them to submit evidence to back their claims.
Primary education and pre-school children left school an hour earlier on Wednesday as state teachers’ union Poed, despite pleas by parents and the ministry, called for a work stoppage at noon over staffing shortages and the employment status offered to those teachers who will be called in to fill empty posts.
State and municipal kindergarten teachers participated in the work stoppage in support of their colleagues.
During the strike, the union organised a number of assemblies in all districts to brief its members. The union’s board will reconvene on September 27 to decide whether to escalate measures.
The strike created inconvenience for parents and students for no particular reason, Kadis said. “Based on data we have before us, this attitude is not justified”.
He added that the education ministry worked very hard the past few months, taking into account both Poed’s and organised parents’ suggestions so the new school year could begin “in the best possible way”.
If Poed or anyone else possess evidence indicating problems in any school he or she should bring this to the ministry’s attention, Kadis said.
The head of Poed, Philios Phylaktou blamed the education ministry for the situation in schools, which was created, he said, after the ministry tried to cover up “criminal mistakes and suggested unacceptable policies”.
He added that at the moment primary, preschool and special education schools are 147 teachers short.
“If the ministry expects Poed to provide information concerning school staffing then it is not even on automatic pilot, but in free-fall,” Phylaktou said.
He said that the shortage of teachers causes problems in the creation of timetables in schools.
In his turn Kadis reiterated that there were no shortages in schools.
“I urge Poed to present evidence for these shortages,” Kadis said. He added that Phylaktou’s public statements were general and had no evidence to back them up.
He said that he expected Poed to tell his ministry specifically which schools were facing problems. On Tuesday, Kadis said, he had heard claims that there were shortages in specific schools but following enquiries it emerged that “not only there were no shortages, but there was surplus”.
Commenting on Poed’s statements that a state kindergarten in Kambos, a village in the Nicosia district, was without a teacher, Kadis said this was because “none of Poed’s members accepted to be appointed there”.
The ministry had to announce a tender bid he said, to buy services from unemployed teachers to fill the post.
“You know what happened? We received a three-digit number of applications for that post, which will be filled promptly. We need to realise what is happening around us,” Kadis said.
He added that Poed “should take a look around it and at society”. “I urge Poed to come to the ministry and present evidence as to these shortages and if this is the case, we reassure everyone that we will respond promptly,” Kadis said.
The work stoppage inconvenienced many parents who had to leave work or make other arrangements to collect their children from schools at noon instead of 1.05pm.
“I had to leave work earlier today and take the rest of the day off as I usually go during my lunch break to pick my younger son from primary school and then my eldest from high school at 2pm, drop them off at home and go back to work,” Maria Ioannou from Nicosia told the Cyprus Mail.
“Today I had to leave earlier to collect the young one at noon, and had to wait two hours to go pick up the eldest from high school. Other people at work had to leave earlier too, while I noticed today grandparents, aunts and uncles picking children up as parents could not make it. Anyone who was available was recruited to collect the children from school today,” Ioannou said. “It has been a great inconvenience no doubt to many”.
Poed said that the strike was a reaction to the situation the late staffing of schools and the recent arrangements for the appointment of contract teachers for ten months to address permanent needs.
Of the 228 teachers who will be hired to help meet staffing shortages or absences in primary and secondary education, 125 will be substitute teachers, while 103 will be given one-year contracts.
Kadis reassured Poed that this was a temporary measure, as the cabinet commissioned a study on the streamlining of the employment of teachers both in primary and secondary education and that within the year there might be changes based on the results of this study. Due to this, it was deemed that it was best not to give one-year contracts to all teachers who will be called to fill in empty posts as they might not be needed for the whole year.