By Evie Andreou
The government on Thursday offered teachers a raft of sweeteners in an attempt to bring an end to union threats to shut down the start of the school year, which included compensation for cutting out some of their class exemptions, one of the issues in the ongoing dispute over the streamlining of education.
The amendments put forward purportedly responds to teachers’ concerns and the issues they had raised during the protracted spat with the education ministry over its decision to introduce certain changes to the operation of schools.
The proposals were tabled by President Nicos Anastasiades during a three-hour meeting with the unions on Thursday. It was a last-ditch effort by the government to avert a schools shutdown at the start of the new academic year.
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the issue could be resolved with good will.
“This proposal answers the concerns and issues trade unions have put forward while at the same time it achieves the goal of carrying on with the government’s policy,” he added.
The government proposal was submitted on the condition that an intensive dialogue would follow on streamlining the entire system, including introduction of teacher evaluation scheme.
Reports said the proposals include reduction in the off-class hours for the class supervisor from two to one. At the same time, absence record-keeping would be undertaken by the school administrations.
The government also proposed a reduction in the teaching periods, which educators got depending on years of service from two to one. Under the current system for example, primary school teachers have their periods cut by two to 27 after 15 years, and to 25 after 21 years.
The lost period would be compensated by an incremental pay rise.
An early retirement scheme was also proposed for teachers in secondary education who are 60 and above and primary school educators who are 58 and above. Their incentive would be to keep a 12 per cent penalty for early retirees that is in place at the moment.
Other matters that will be part of the dialogue between the two sides concern provident funds for new entrants, health and safety in schools, infrastructure, such as building facilities and all other school upgrading needs, additional training, strengthening of major programmes in schools such as the one for the prevention of the use of addictive substances or for dealing with delinquency, special education, support of illiterate children, playgrounds in pre-primary education, and sports facilities.
Prodromou said that the two sides have also discussed launching a dialogue aiming at reinforcing state schools.
“The philosophy of the government approach is that we want to reinforce the work of educators in schools, support children […] and at the same time find ways so that school results match funding and other efforts the state is ready to make,” he said.
The ball is now in the court of the teachers as it is up to them to decide on whether they accept the proposal.
“We want to hope- because it is a good proposal that could seal a deal and avoid any problems – that it will be accepted within the next few hours or days,” he said.
Education Minister, Costas Hambiaouris, will also meet with parent organisations later in the day. The parents are also scheduled to meet with Anastasiades.
The dialogue between the government and teaching unions Poed, Oelmek and Oltek, was relaunched on Wednesday afternoon when unions had separate meetings with Hambiaouris after the first round led to a dead end over unbridged differences.
This is the second time Anastasiades has intervened since teaching unions came out strongly against the abolition of exemptions from teaching time for extracurricular activities and seniority reasons, following the cabinet decision last month.
Teachers submitted to the minister on Wednesday a joint document with their remarks on his latest letter sent to them last week.
In their letter, the unions told Hambiaouris that the data presented to them in last week’s memo were inaccurate and misleading and did not present the real picture of the education system. The memo, unions said “is obviously trying to present a fictitious and clearly negative image of the teachers.”
In his memo, Hambiaouris had presented 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.