Massive crowds of teachers gathered in the center of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, on February 14 to agitate for higher wages. With schools closed nationwide, about 20,000 teachers traveled to Ljubljana to take part in the protests. An estimated 40,000 people participated nationwide. The protests were part of a week of public sector workers’ protests, all with the goal of wage increases given recent economic growth.
The government put blanket restrictions on wage hikes in 2012 following the financial crisis. These same restrictions are still in place, despite steady economic recovery. The teachers aimed to send a message of discontent, arguing that most professionals of the same education level, like public administrators and doctors, earn more. Sandi Modrijan, spokesman for teachers’ trade union SVIZ demanded a wage increase of 10 percent for teachers.
In the crowd of teachers, there was notable animosity toward the government—and specifically Public Administration Minister Boris Koprivnikar. Teachers, speaking to reporters from Slovenia News, described the government’s inaction as shameful, insulting, and despicable. Others criticized Koprivnikar for traveling to Dubai during the same week as the public sector protests. Long-stagnant salaries were not the protesters’ only grievance; teachers also claim to have received no bonuses for classroom materials, making quality teaching a difficult task.
“It’s very difficult for us to make progress. You can make the most of your advisor or counselor, but you can’t do more. You continue to work with your children the same kind of enthusiasm, participate in competitions, take offers, but we just collect paper certificates. There are no promotions, and there are no rewards—before, the director the opportunity to financially reward the effort,” Star Ritonja, a Slovenian elementary school teacher of 30 years who now works also as a counselor, told Slovenian newspaper the Evening.
There have been allegations that the demands for wage increases are an attempt to exploit political generosity in light of upcoming elections. Branimir Štrukelj, main secretary of SVIZ, refuted these claims in a speech to protesters, noting that requests for wage hikes began in 2015.
The government has refused to increase wages previously on the grounds that it would not fit with the fiscal plan based on current economic growth—the plan aims to turn last years’ budget deficit into a surplus for 2018. However, Slovenian Education Minister Maja Makovec Brencic said that some of the teachers’ requests were justified and under consideration.
Talks with the teachers’ unions are ongoing. Štrukelj announced in his speech on the day of the protest that if a satisfactory agreement is not reached, another protest will take place on March 14. The teachers feel desperate but are hopeful for a solution.