THE DISPUTE between the teaching unions and the education minister seems destined to drag on for a while with neither side prepared to budge from their respective positions. This was made evident after Tuesday’s informal meeting intended to ‘break the ice’ after weeks of squabbling. There was deadlock said the minister Costas Hambiaouris when he left the meeting, showing that he was not willing to give in to the union bosses who had launched a public campaign against him in the last couple of months, accusing him of being a liar, incoherent, unpredictable and many other things.
The row is over the council of ministers’ decision to stop the practice of reducing the weekly teaching hours with years of a service, a violation of public service work conditions highlighted by the auditor-general some time ago. After eight years of service, weekly teaching periods were reduced by two and after 16 by another two, the eventual total reaching six. Apart from this any responsibility such as being in charge of the library or writing minutes at a monthly meeting also allowed a reduction of teaching periods.
Arguably, the most ridiculous concession was that officials of the teaching unions were paid to carry out their union duties during school hours, while contract teachers were used as cover at the taxpayer’s expense. Hambiaouris, to his credit, has already put an end to this practice, as the timetables for the new school year did not allocate any free time to union reps. This infuriated a union boss, who was terribly affronted when a radio presenter pointed out that teachers had plenty of free time in the afternoon to carry out their union duties.
The minister has shown the resolve to fight it out with the bullying teaching unions that held a public protest last week, plan another for next month and have threatened to be on strike when the new school year begins. They calculate that the strike threat would win them the support of parents’ associations, but it has not worked so far. Union bosses indicated that they would seek a meeting with President Anastasiades, who has a personal policy of pandering to the unions. Akel has also called for the intervention of the president, as if he is an industrial dispute mediator.
He should avoid meeting the unions at all costs and stand by his minister who has been implementing a government decision. In fact, the government has an obligation, for once, to stand firm in the face of union threats. It should allow the teachers to go on strike in September, over a trivial matter that has nothing to do with education. The teachers will have no public sympathy and be exposed as the self-interested bullies they are, willing to penalise children in order to safeguard their easy working life.