Sunday, 24 November 2019

Plenković Expects School Strike to End Next Week

ZAGREB, November 24, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday that he expected the ongoing teachers' strike to end next week after the striking unions were on Friday presented with an offer that was expected to help free the strike from political connotations and show that the government respected teachers.

"According to the solution we have offered, schools should start working next week and the solution would also help teachers avoid becoming an instrument of political wrangling with the government of those who have some other ambitions," Plenković said in downtown Zagreb where he and several government ministers signed a list of support for the presidential candidacy of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

The leader of the national union of secondary school teachers, Branimir Mihalinec, too, said on Friday evening that he expected the problem of the ongoing strike to be resolved next week but he also said that the strike would continue and announced a protest in Zagreb's Ban Josip Jelačić Square for Monday.

Just like union leaders, Plenković would not reveal the details of the offered solution either, saying only that it had to be sufficient to enable the return of children to schools and convince teachers that the government respects them.

He repeated that wages in the education sector would go up by 18% during the term of his government, but that job complexity indices were defined by a government regulation.

The regulation will be reviewed, but it takes time, he said.

The review will be done by external experts so as to prevent employees in other state and public services to go on strike after teachers, he said.

"We understand that teachers have felt disadvantaged for years in relation to some other employees because of their job complexity index. But that is not a subject of talks between the government and unions," he said.

Plenković repeated that one must not allow the topic of job complexity indices to be politicised by opposition politicians and interest groups.

"We cannot allow demagogues from the SDP to sign two petitions in one year. They signed the petition for the '67 is too much' referendum campaign and it was their government that raised the retirement age to 67. That won't be allowed," he said, describing the school strike and the union protest announced for Monday as an orchestrated attack against the government ahead of presidential elections.

"Those who will be involved in that have nothing to do with teachers. We are not naive, this is an attempt to exploit an unfair system of job complexity indices. We are aware of that and we will fight back."

More news about the school strike can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Teachers' Union Leaders Expect Solution to Be Reached Next Week

ZAGREB, November 23, 2019 - The leader of the secondary school teachers' union, Branimir Mihalinec, said on Friday evening after a meeting with government representatives that "finally a good meeting has been held" and that they were getting closer to a solution.

"Meetings will continue and we expect a solution to be reached next week. It will then be put to a vote by our members," Mihalinec told the press.

He did not specify what the solution included, and when asked if this meant that the protest announced for Monday was cancelled, he said that the protest would be held in Zagreb's main square Trg Bana Jelačića at 12.05 hours on Monday as planned.

The secretary general of the primary school teachers' union, Ana Tuškan, said that the strike was continuing. She added that they were glad that they were finally invited to talks and that they finally talked.

"We hope that we will manage to hold a few more meetings with government representatives," she said. "We are satisfied that we were able to talk. Today is the 30th day of the strike and we have basically talked for the first time."

Asked if the issue of job complexity indices was finally on the table, Tuškan replied in the negative. "There were no offers, we only agreed that we hoped that there would be more meetings and that we would try to solve this problem," Tuškan said.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday, after a meeting between government representatives and representatives of striking teachers' unions, that the meeting was yet another attempt by the government to find a solution, promising that he would do his best so that agreement was reached and an end was put to the ongoing strike.

"We deeply believe that there is no reason for the strike or for any major protest. It makes no sense to go on strike when wages are going up," he said in an interview with Croatian Television.

He would not specify the offer discussed at today's meeting, saying only that there was agreement not to talk about the details for the time being as additional consultations within the unions as well as in the government were necessary.

Asked who was responsible for the current situation, the PM said that some of the responsibility rested also with Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak.

"Each minister answers for their own department. I expect this problem to be solved. She has been trying to contribute constructively, she has been making effort and there is no dilemma about that, but certain statements that she made in recent days are not good or acceptable," he noted but would not say if Divjak's replacement had been discussed, saying only that he primarily wanted to run a government that ensured a better life for all citizens.

"I don't like when something that we have invested a lot into is transforming into a political protest. I want to be clear - children have to go to school and young people need to be educated."

Asked if the school year was at risk, Plenković said that he would do his best so that an agreement was reached and an end was put to the strike.

More news about the strike can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Plenković Addresses Striking Education Workers, They Remain Silent

ZAGREB, November 21, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Thursday addressed striking education sector unions after their silent protest, calling for a compromise and for ending the strike for the good of children.

"It is in my interest for children to go to school and for us not to fall behind schedule, not just with regard to making-up time but with regard to the holidays and graduation examinations as well. We have to act responsibly. I appeal above all to teachers, principals, parents and children - it is not good to not go to school. If we want to move forward, we have to learn and in order to learn, teachers have to do their job," Plenković told reporters in front of Government House.

Asked if he was surprised by the reaction of the unions who after he addressed them raised a banner in front of his face without saying a word, Plenković said that that was democratic and that he did not see any problem in that.

He said that the dialogue with the unions would continue in an effort to find a solution and repeated what the government had done and offered so far so that employees in primary and secondary schools could be guaranteed a 20% higher wage during the term of his government.

"With regard to indices, seeing that this applies to a large number of people - a total of 90,000 people in primary and secondary education - the volume of funds that is required is higher. We said - let's conduct an analysis of (job complexity) indices to see what the complexity of each job is worth," Plenković claimed, adding that the issue of indices would be resolved after the analysis but that that did not mean the government did not want dialogue.

Asked whether the issue of indices should have been dealt with earlier and not at the end of his term, Plenković said that there were several layers to that story and that the substance was a higher wage.

"The issue of dignity, which I understand, has existed for almost twenty years or so. The unions know how many changes to indices have occurred. That is the accumulated responsibility of not just this government but of all the governments so far," he said.

The essence of his message, he said, "is that we should consider everything with a fresh view and see how much that is really worth. "The most important thing that I appeal for is compromise."

Asked to comment on the fact that it appears that the unions will not back down, Plenković said that there is no other way than to talk.

Asked to comment on a recent statement by Education Minister Blaženka Divjak that she would not participate in the "power games" between the prime minister and unions, he said that they had not had time these past few days to talk.

"The matter of the fact is that anyone in charge of a portfolio wants things to be better in that portfolio. That is logical and I understand every minister. It is also important to know that the government has to be a team, it has to have a single line. If you have a line that is not acting united, then that's awkward," he said, adding that he would talk with Divjak about that.

More news about the strike can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

No Agreement Following Meeting between Education Minister and Unions

ZAGREB, November 20, 2019 - A meeting between Education Minister Blaženka Divjak and union representatives regarding the issue of making up for lost lessons during the ongoing teachers' strike did not end with any concrete results and the unions rejected Minister Divjak's proposal to at least hold classes for eighth graders and high school graduate students.

"We have to understand that entrenched attitudes will not resolve anything and we have to think about a strategy of cooperation that will enable us to work on something we all say we support. We will become a mature society when we realise that there is no alternative to the strategy of cooperation," Divjak said after the meeting.

Representatives of all three education-sector unions attended today's meeting with the education minister. The children's ombudsman was also invited but she failed to attend, which Divjak commented on by saying that very few people wanted to get involved in resolving concrete problems and that the current situation could not be resolved by only one or two people or institutions.

She underscored that she agreed with the unions that the students who were most jeopardised were eighth graders and high school graduate students who needed to complete the school year in order to enrol for further education.

"I put a proposal to the unions that lessons for eighth graders and high school graduates be organised so that we can at least ensure that lessons are not lost, as losing lessons means that exams will have to be postponed and students' further education is jeopardised. The unions did not agree," Divjak said.

The minister and unions also discussed various scenarios of how to make up for lost lessons, reschedule exams and complete the school year as well as the possibility of conducting lessons during the holidays to make up for lost time.

Commenting on Labour and Pension Minister Josip Aladrović's reaction to her comment that she did not "wish to participate in power games between the government and unions," which he described as unfair and as passing the buck, Divjak said that "the truth hurts sometimes."

"When I say that I made a recommendation to the prime minister and relevant ministers about what we can do in this situation - primarily to open a dialogue and not be entrenched and fire at each other - that is the truth. I'm ready to take on my part of the responsibility as part of the government," she said.

Divjak added that she could not make a recommendation to the unions for something that she had no backing for, which, she said, was responsible behaviour.

Asked whether she would step down, she said that she had been constructive and consistent in her work and that she would remain in her post as long as she could see that the problems could be solved and she could make a contribution.

Independent Secondary School Union leader Branimir Mihalinec told reporters that making up for the time spent on strike while the strike was still ongoing was unallowable.

He underscored that the unions presented their views of the problems, which he said were not caused by the unions or employees in education but were the consequence of irresponsible government policies.

"This is really an awkward situation. The government does not wish to solve the problem. There are no negotiations or talks. There are no indications that the strike can end and it can only end when we negotiate an offer which is that good that people will accept it," said Mihalinec.

More news about the strike can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Are Police Officers Going to Strike Next?

ZAGREB, November 20, 2019 - The Police Officers Union (SPS) on Tuesday supported a strike by education unions and announced a protest rally and a strike to fight for a better financial and social status of police.

The SPS said in a press release it was showing solidarity with teachers in their fight for a better financial and social status which, it added, they deserve.

Police officers are in a similar situation as they are underpaid and at the bottom of the social ladder, the only difference being that education workers have unanimous and agile representative unions which negotiate with arguments and can't be bought or cheated, the SPS said.

Police have representative unions of state administration employees "who only nod and sign what they are offered."

The SPS accused the Interior Ministry top brass of discriminating against non-representative unions for years and agreeing "certain things under the table at the expense of police officers," with the three representative unions.

The SPS will poll police about participating in protests and a strike. Depending on the results, the union will launch actions which will "intensify when Croatia chairs the Council of the European Union" in the first half of 2020.

Independent Croatian Trade Unions (NHS) president Krešimir Sever also supported the protesting school unions.

However, the Croatian Police Union (SPH) on Tuesday dismissed the claim that "representative trade unions should join the ill-advised police strike organised by a smaller union," saying that non-representative unions could not call a legal strike.

"The wage base and the wage amount for police officers are regulated by the collective agreement, and the Labour Act clearly provides that only representative unions are entitled to call a strike to amend the law. The SPH reserves its right to industrial action and recalls that it has organised strikes and protests whenever that was necessary. We will decide on this on our own in accordance with our internal organisation and the trust placed in us by our membership, the largest among state services," the SPH said on its website.

It said that it would continue to use its negotiating power in negotiations with the employer.

"As far as the current government is concerned, we have been negotiating basically since the start of its term. We have managed to reinstate some of the rights that were lost during the terms of previous governments. We continue to work on improving the financial status of police officers, while the issue of equipment and work conditions has already been greatly improved. We will not give up our main goal of increasing the starting salary for police officers to the present index of 1.00, and in that fight, we will use all legitimate means. We will decide on the timing and method ourselves," the union said.

More strike news can be found in the Business section.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Education Minister Calls on Prime Minister, Unions to Start Dialogue

ZAGREB, November 19, 2019 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Tuesday held a special news conference calling on striking teachers' unions and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to start a dialogue, find a compromise and give priority to children's interests.

"Since the start of the strike, I have been trying to reconcile two rights - the right of students to quality education and the right of teachers to fight for a better financial status. As of today, that can no longer be reconciled. The current situation, with the entire education system being in a state of blockade, is the result of a game of power between the unions and the prime minister. I don't want to participate in that," said Divjak.

Students' future is at stake, she said, calling on education-sector unions and the prime minister to rise above their current positions and find a good compromise and give children priority, as otherwise all would be losers.

Asked if she had considered tendering her resignation, she said that she had considered how to not contribute to the chaos but rather help find a solution.

"I will not take sides. There is a lack of good dialogue and that's not good. The dissatisfaction expressed by teachers is also due to that," she said.

Primary and secondary school teachers earlier in the day said their strike, which so far has been a rotating one, would continue as a general strike until their demands were met.

They also announced protests to be held during a congress of the European People's Party (EPP) on Wednesday and Thursday, in Zagreb's central Ban Josip Jelačić Square and outside the government and parliament offices, in St. Mark's Square.

Members of the striking teachers' unions have rejected the government's last offer by a vast majority of votes.

The government's last offer consisted of a 6.12% increase in the base pay next year, an analysis of wages in the public sector, including job complexity indices, and an agreement on a wage supplement of 2% if the government fails to amend the regulation on job complexity indices by June 30.

The unions demand a 6.11% increase in the job complexity index for teachers so that they do not lag behind other public services.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Education Unions Going on General Strike until Demands Are Met

ZAGREB, November 19, 2019 - The Preporod union said on Tuesday 94% of teachers in 381 primary and secondary schools were against the government's proposal to raise the job complexity index by 2% for all school employees as of 1 July 2020, and that 91% were for continuing the general strike until their demands are met.

Nearly 12,000 teachers took part in a poll conducted on November 13 and 14.

The Croatian Teachers Union and the Independent Union of Secondary School Employees said last night they were embarking on a general strike until their demands for a 6.11% increase of the job complexity index was met.

Today, on its 27th day, the strike is being held in all primary and secondary schools across the country.

Labour Minister Josip Aladrović said on Tuesday the continuation of the strike in education did not mean the government would agree to everything the unions demand, and that the government continued not to see a reason for the strike but that it was not considering requesting a court injunction for now.

"We have made moves which we think meet the demands, only in a different way," Aladrović said at the 6th assembly of the NSH union federation.

He told the education unions which, after 26 days of a rotating strike, announced a general one as of today until their demands are met, that the government saw no reason for the strike as the salaries of education workers would certainly increase next year.

On Thursday, we are continuing negotiations on the base pay with all public servants, and we expect the striking education unions to come to the negotiations, he said.

He added, however, that the negotiations would be on topics defined by the basic collective agreement, while the job complexity index, for which the education unions demand a 6.11% rise, could only be "talked about, not negotiated."

Earlier today, Independent Union of Secondary School Employees president Branimir Mihalinec announced the start of a general strike in all primary and secondary schools until the union demands were met.

"There is no more rotating strike, only an all-out strike. All counties, all of Croatia will be on strike until the union demands are met," he told reporters. "This is new, strong pressure on the government to start resolving the problems together with the unions."

More news about the strike can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Nation-Wide Strike of Primary, Secondary School Teachers Set for Tuesday

ZAGREB, November 18, 2019 - Teachers' unions did not strike on Monday due to the 28th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar in the Homeland War, and union representatives announced a nation-wide strike of primary and secondary teachers for Tuesday.

The leader of the national union of secondary school teachers, Branimir Mihalinec, said that the new round of the strike would start on Tuesday, when all primary and secondary schools in the country would strike against the government's last offer to the unions, which they consider shameful, less favourable than the previous one, and an attempt to humiliate the striking education-sector workers.

The government's last offer to the striking unions consisted of a 6.12% increase in the base pay next year, an analysis of wages in the public sector, including job complexity indices, and an agreement on a wage supplement of 2% if the government fails to amend the regulation on job complexity indices by June 30.

The unions demand a 6.11% increase in the job complexity index for teachers so that they do not lag behind other public services.

Their strike, which is a rotating one, has been going on for 26 days and so far, each student is six school days short of the prescribed number of school days.

Leaders of the striking primary and secondary school teachers' unions were expected to decide on Monday on the models of their industrial action for the period after Tuesday.

Union leaders have said that they will publish on Tuesday the results of a referendum among their members on the government's offer. According to data presented last week, the government's offer was rejected with more than 95% of the vote.

More news about the strike can be found in the Business section.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Teacher Unions Reject Government Offer, Strike to Continue

ZAGREB, November 14, 2019 – Teacher unions on Wednesday rejected a new offer by the government to end the strike and said that it was even lower than what they had been offered last week, adding that the current teachers' strike would continue and that further negotiations had been suspended until further notice.

At negotiations at the Ministry of Labour and Pension System, the government presented a new proposal to the unions - the already proposed increase of 6.12% of the base wage and an analysis of the entire wage system in the public sector to include the job complexity indices of employees in primary and secondary schools, and in the science and higher education sector.

The new element in the government's proposal is the signing of an agreement on a wage supplement in education and science which defines the government's obligation to give all employees in the education system a 2% wage supplement if it does not amend the regulation on job complexity indices by 30 June 2020. The government offer also said that teachers would be paid for the days they were on strike until November 15.

The head of the secondary schools union, Branimir Mihalinec, said that last Tuesday the government offered the option of increasing the job complexity index by 2% and was now offering an optional 2% increase in supplements, which is financially a lower offer than the one of a 2% increase of the job complexity index.

"This offer is lower than the one that was put to a referendum and that teachers are resolutely rejecting. We are disappointed. Croatia does not deserve a government like this," Mihalinec said underscoring that the unions did not sign the offer.

He added that that meant that the strike would continue and that any further negotiations with the government were suspended until further notice.

More news about the school strike can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Government to Present New Offer to Striking Trade Unions

ZAGREB, November 13, 2019 - Minister of Labour and Pension System Josip Aladrović said on Tuesday that he would send education-sector trade unions an invitation to a meeting to be held on Wednesday, when the government would present its final offer to union demands, adding that he hoped that after that, the strike in primary and secondary schools would end.

"I would like to say that a meeting will be held tomorrow, today we will send an invitation and we expect the unions will respond to see what the government wishes to offer," Aladrović told reporters in Government House after disgruntled union leaders said earlier in the day that they had not been called to continue negotiations with the government.

Aladrović however did not wish to reveal what the government intends to present as its final offer seeing that the unions insist on a 6.11% increase in the job complexity index in the education sector.

"I think that it would be in order to keep the offer for the meeting... We will see tomorrow if there will be any changes," he said.

He also added that the government expected the strike to end. "We expect the end of the strike considering all the increases we have offered through the basic collective agreement and through the optional increase that we offered earlier in the case that the regulation on job complexity indices is not amended."

The government has offered the unions an increase of the base wage of 6.12% next year and that it will analyse the wage system in the public sector and examine job complexity indices in primary, secondary and higher education and in science.

If the regulation on job complexity indices is not amended before 1 July next year, the government is prepared to increase the job complexity index in the education sector by 2%.

Earlier in the day, education-sector unions threatened that if the government did not send them a new offer, they would call on striking teachers to voice their opinion on the government's current proposal which the unions have referred to as "0+0."

"As far as a referendum is concerned, the unions are free to organise it if they consider it to be necessary to inform their membership of the government's proposal," said Aladrović.

With the 6.12% increase and the optional additional increase of 2% the government will have increased wages in primary and secondary schools by more than 1,400 kuna, Aladrović claimed.

"I think that from the financial aspect the government has shown good will in resolving the problem of all those employed in the public sector and state administration. I'm sorry that that has not been recognised," he added.

The continuation of the strike depends on the unions and whether they will accept the government's offer, he said.

"The strike certainly is not a good situation for students and parents. We are nearing the situation when it will be necessary to extend the school year and they certainly need to consider ending the strike. I think that the financial demands have been met and that there is no further need for the strike," Aladrović concluded.

More news about recent strikes can be found in the Business section.

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