The education minister is to hold monthly meetings with primary and secondary teacher unions to discuss all issues concerning public education such as delinquency, health and safety in schools and employment matters, it was announced on Monday.
The announcement followed a meeting between Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris, primary teachers’ union Poed, and secondary teachers’ unions Oelmek and Oltek.
The meeting comes after months of dispute, protests and strikes by the teachers, mainly over employment issues after the government decided to slash some of the teaching exemption benefits for state teachers.
Government and public-school teachers agreed last September to bury the hatchet and to start talks on the various problems faced in state education.
Following a meeting with Poed, Oelmek and Oltek on Monday, Hambiaouris said that he would meet each of the unions separately once every month.
He said that on Monday they launched a new “constructive” round of consultations and discussed delinquency and violence in schools, health and safety issues and employment matters.
“Everyone’s concern is the welfare of our children,” Hambiaouris said, adding that the meeting revealed many convergences.
Union leaders expressed optimism that the new round of consultations would help solve a number of issues concerning state schools and employment matters.
“There are many open issues which we must gradually close … the goodwill expressed by all sides gives a glimpse of hope that all issues will advance having as goal the benefit of education and the children,” said Poed leader, Fylios Phylaktou.
Oelmek head, Yiannos Socratous, expressed hope that the new dialogue would help resolve problems timely to avoid the “unpleasant situations” of last year.
He said that this will be an open-ended procedure, “because educational matters are endless” as new problems keep arising.
The head of Oltek, Panayiotis Lysandrou, said that this was “a new beginning”.
“We ought to be optimistic that, very soon, we will have tangible results,” Lysandrou said.
Last August, thousands of teachers and people who supported them staged a protest march, which ended outside the presidential palace.
Unions were up in arms when the education ministry decided to reduce the free time previously afforded to senior educators as well as to union officials to engage in trade-union activities during normal working hours.
With the change, certain union officials would have been forced to spend more time in the classroom.
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 government has since largely walked this back, bringing a revised proposal where the top officials from each trade union will be allotted a certain number of hours per week to engage in union work during normal working hours.