Krakow, Poland – Around half a million Polish teachers and schools personnel could go on strike throughout the country next month during an important exam period.
Earlier this week, talks between officials from the Education Ministry and teachers’ unions failed to reach an agreement on the ongoing dispute over the teachers’ salaries.
The head of the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) claimed that up to 90% of school employees and personnel throughout Poland were ready to support a strike. The powerful union, which repeatedly clashed with the government’s education policies in the past, stated that it was “thanks to us, to teachers and to local governments that the chaos caused by [Education Minister] Anna Zalewska didn’t result in the complete destruction of the education system”.
The Polish Education Ministry disputed allegations of mass support for the strike, which is due to start on April 8 right before the start of an important exam period, and claims that over half of elementary, middle and upper-secondary schools have not held strike referendums.
Currently, starting salaries for teachers in Poland start at the minimum wage, or 520 euros per month since the last increase. Most unions are demanding a wage hike of 1.000 zlotys (around 230 euros) a month. Others, like the Solidarity union, ask for teachers’ pay to be increased by 650 PLN this year, followed by an additional 15% rise in January next year.
Experts warn of the growing lack of teachers throughout the country, with the insufficient financial compensation often cited as one of the main reasons for the career’s lack of appeal. To make up for it, some local governments supplement teachers’ salaries, including in Warsaw, where mayor Rafał Trzaskowski recently decided to increase the city’s contribution to their wages.
But teachers are demanding that action be taken at the national level by Education Minister Anna Zalewska (PiS). Next month’s strike could represent an important test for the ruling Law and Justice party, whose lavish social spending promises seem to have left teachers and education on the sidewalk.
Two years ago, the government already faced mass protests sparked by its controversial education reform.