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As education impasse looms teachers seek support of political parties (updated)

Primary school teachers at an earlier protest

Teaching unions said on Tuesday they have launched consultations with political parties as the dialogue with the education ministry on the streamlining of state schools appears to be headed to an impasse.

The boards of the primary and secondary teaching unions Poed and Oelmek and technical education Oltek held a joint meeting on Tuesday to assess the oral response of Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris to the proposals they submitted last Friday.

Following the meeting they said they would send another letter to Hambiaouris reiterating the positions they have already outlined to the minister and are expecting his response on Wednesday.

The government measures on streamlining teachers’ duties that concern putting an end to the reduction in teaching hours according to length of service but also for extra-curricular activities, put in effect earlier in the month, meant that around 300 contract teachers will not be re-hired for the next school year, the unions said on Tuesday.

In their letter, they reiterate that they do not accept the measures decided by cabinet on July 4 and that is why that have submitted their counterproposals. They said they would take their final decision after they have seen Hambiaouris’ written response.

“We have to say that the dialogue seemed to be headed to an impasse two days ago, but we expect that the reply from the ministry will offer a way out,” Poed head Fylios Fylaktou said after the meeting.

He said there is a large gap between their positions and that of Hambiaouris following the meeting on Sunday but that the unions were willing to shorten the distance. “We expect that the other side will take the same attitude.”

Otherwise, he said, “you realise that the problems we will be faced with will be very serious.”

Fylaktou said the consultations with political parties “will help in overcoming the difficult situation education and schools are in”.

Hitting back at the claims made by the unions about the problems in the appointment of teachers, the education ministry said this year the total number of teachers set to be appointed to permanent positions will be 159 more than last year. The total for the 2018-2019 school year is set to be 844, while last year only 685 new teachers were appointed.

The ministry will also move forward with 150 contract positions as well.

“The claim that dozens of teachers would remain unemployed due to decisions made at the cabinet meeting, is incorrect,” the ministry said in a statement.

According to daily Politis, President Nicos Anastasiades, who is on holiday in the Seychelles, has intervened with suggestions to both sides in a bid to move the dialogue forward.

On whether they would meet Anastasiades, Fylaktou said that this is something they too read in the media.

The two sides have agreed on an intensive dialogue – launched last week – in a bid to reach a consensus to ensure the smooth opening of schools in September.

In the letter they sent to Hambiaouris, the unions propose, among other things, that the ministry could reduce teacher secondments to the ministry, suspend teacher training programmes, transfer permanent teachers who have become superfluous due to lack of interest by pupils in their subjects to other posts, and offer incentives for early retirement.

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