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‘Education minister has devalued meaning of dialogue’

Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris

Main opposition Akel on Tuesday requested an extraordinary meeting of the House education committee to discuss the crisis caused by the row between the government and teaching unions over measures aiming at streamlining state schools.

With the dialogue between teaching unions and Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris set to resume on Wednesday, Akel MP Giorgos Georgiou called for a meeting of the House education committee, accusing its chairman, ruling Disy’s Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis, of refusing to convene the body despite that the majority of its members agreed to the meeting.

Georgiou, who is also a member of the committee, said the education crisis “bears the seal of the education minister, Disy and the government.”

With their unilateral decisions, he said, they have devalued the concept of dialogue and the educational world by using misleading data.

According to Georgiou, the majority of members of the committee agreed to the need for a meeting in July but it has not met because Hadjiyiannis “refuses stubbornly to convene the committee, obviously obeying orders from above.

“Time is running out. We call on him to respect the institution of parliament and the important role the committee can play and convene it immediately,” Georgiou said.

Otherwise, he said, he is just prolonging the crisis created by minister, the government and Disy, which will also bear responsibility for what’s to come.

Primary education teachers union Poed and secondary education Oelmek and Oltek said they would have separate meetings on Wednesday with Hambiaouris but that they would submit a joint response to his latest letter in which he cites among other things disappointing data on the level of public education compared to high teacher salaries, fewer working hours than the EU average and higher total expenditure on education.

Unions had said that these data were inaccurate and misleading and that they would present him the real data on Wednesday. They will reportedly hold a press conference within the coming days while they continue preparations for the mass protest rally they had announced for August 28. They are also threatening an indefinite strike.

Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting that it would not be in the best interest of teachers or of schools not to present for duty at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, organised parents, who are meeting with Hambiaouris on Thursday, said on Tuesday that teachers were trying to influence local parent associations in support of their positions. The Pancyprian confederation of secondary education parent associations said that teachers have been pressuring parents associations to issue written statements stating their support for the teachers, putting parents in a tough spot.

The month-long spat was triggered by the government’s decision in July to abolish the reduction of teaching hours with years of service and for extra-curricular activities. Teaching unions were outraged with this “arbitrary” decision and thousands of teachers took to the streets in July to protest.

The willingness of both sides to engage in dialogue and to attempt to find a solution favourable to all was confirmed by Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos, who held separate meetings on Monday with the teachers’ unions and the education minister in an attempt to bridge the gap.

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