By Evie Andreou
Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris on Monday refuted claims that the government would take vindictive measures against striking teachers, but stressed it plans on finding ways to best tackle the issue by protecting the rights of pupils.
Hambiaouris, along with the ministers of agriculture and labour, had a meeting on Monday with Attorney-general, Costas Clerides, to discuss legal instruments for managing the 48-hour teacher strike which is set to start on Tuesday. The three ministers were appointed by the cabinet as a committee tasked to handle the education crisis.
The minister refrained from elaborating on whether the committee came to any conclusions during their meeting with Clerides.
“Because the right to strike is constitutionally guaranteed and fully respected, we have discussed with the Attorney-general ways to take legal measures so that the state can ensure unhindered provision of education to our children and their right to learn,” Hambiaouris said.
He reiterated that any decisions taken would not concern counter measures. “To make this clear; we do not know who has adopted this term, I just repeat, [we’ll take] legal measures to manage the situation for our children to have unhindered access to their education,” Hambiaouris said.
On whether striking teachers would see their wages slashed, Hambiaouris said that this was one of the issues to be looked into in due time.
On Sunday the head of the primary education teachers, Fylios Fylaktou had said that they had sought legal advice from the law firm of Alecos Markides, a former attorney-general. The advice given, according Fylaktou, “clearly said the teacher’s salary is not in exchange for what he/she does in school, but that it ensures his/her living […] so that they can perform his/her vocation. Therefore, classroom and extracurricular activities cannot be valued in money, so there can be no pay deduction.”
But Markides told the CyBC the law stipulated that an employer was not obliged to pay salaries for the days workers were on strike.
Hambiaouris on Monday refrained from making further statements so as not to increase tension.
Prior to the meeting with Clerides, Hambiaouris refuted reports that his ministry was planning on taking vindictive measures or that it would carry out disciplinary probes. He said that they would study with the attorney-general the measures taken by educational organisations and see how they could manage the crisis in the best possible way, away from controversy and tension.
In view of the strike, the education ministry announced that it would not be in a position to offer protection and safety in schools on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Organised parents, who on Monday blamed both sides for the ongoing crisis in education, advised that children would be best kept home during the strike for safety reasons.
In a statement, the federation of secondary education parents’ associations said that despite the fact that government and teachers had been declaring on every occasion the last couple of months that their top priority was the good of pupils, their actions showed the opposite.
“None of them shows substantive will and cooperation to resolve disputes and to restructure the education system,” the parents said. “We are confident that when they finally realise that the focus, is or should be, the pupils, and when there is substantive will, flexibility and cooperation on both sides, then we will surely find a solution to all the problems faced by the public school.”
Meanwhile, primary and secondary teacher unions officially announced on Monday they would go on a 48-hour strike as of Tuesday and called on all their members to participate.
Unions Poed, Oelmek and Oltek said that their boards, following the green light given to them by the majority of their members earlier in the month, have jointly decided to take strike measures to protest against the “unilateral decisions” of the cabinet last July, but also the subsequent “unacceptable stance of the government” against educators in general and their leadership and public school.
In a written statement, the three unions called on all educators in state schools, but also those teaching in night schools, adult education centres and those seconded to the education ministry to “participate in our just struggle” to defend public education.
In a news conference on Monday, Fylaktou said the issue was not the free periods or the money but the government’s unilateral decisions.
“We will defend the public school because it is the one that accepts all kids without exception, kids from low socioeconomic levels, kids with problematic and delinquent behaviour, kids with special needs,” he said.
Fylaktou said the unions have prepared themselves for a lengthy struggle but hope there will not be a need for one.
All three teaching unions decided to go on strike last week because the government rejected additional demands made after an agreement between the unions and the ministerial committee had been reached. The two-month dispute concerns the decision by the government to slash some of the teaching exemption benefits of state educators in a bid to save funds to be used for other needs in public education.