Education talks to go on as long as necessary, presidency says

The government said Tuesday that dialogue with teacher unions on streamlining public education that was expected to start this week will carry on for as long as it takes, as teachers charged that delays have limited its agreed duration, which was one week.

The launch of the dialogue was agreed last week at a meeting chaired by President Nicos Anastasiades in which unions Oelmek, Poed, Oltek, and organised parents, said they would hold a week-long consultation with the government on the matter starting at the beginning of this week.

After that, unions said, they would decide whether to carry on with strike measures they had announced for September or call them off.

The dialogue on streamlining public education and review of the system of exemptions from teaching hours for extra-curricular activities will instead start on Wednesday, as the education minister was abroad on an official trip.

On Monday, the education ministry gave teacher unions data they had requested on the matter.

The government said, however, that the dialogue will carry on for as long as it takes.

“Despite the understanding that it would be best for the procedure to be completed the soonest possible, there is no timeframe for the dialogue,” a statement from the presidency said.

It added that it expects that “constructive spirit” will prevail so that consensus is reached for a more efficient operation of public schools.

The statement followed one issued by unions on Monday lamenting the fact that the dialogue did not start on that day, as per the president’s instructions, and as a result, it has been limited from five days initially to just three.

They also said the data they had received from the ministry was already known to stakeholders “and has no added value as to the outcome of the dialogue.”

Unions said they want access to a detailed report on the educational needs for the new school year but also of the previous one for reasons of comparison.

They also requested a list with secondments of educators at the education ministry and elsewhere.

“It is these data that will give the dialogue a boost,” they said.

They called on Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris to arrange for these data to be given to them before the start of the dialogue.

It is clear, the unions said, that the education minister, has reduced the timeframe of the dialogue, to just three days, while, at the same time, he appears to be stalling on the issue of submitting all quantitative data related to the educational needs on which the dialogue should be conducted.

They said that they are ready to enter into dialogue and called on Hambiaouris to “cooperate for the successful outcome of the dialogue.”

“In the case of the opposite, it is the education minister who will bear full responsibility,” the unions said.

The row started earlier in the month after unions were angered by a cabinet decision to abolish exemptions from teaching hours for trade union activities and extra-curricular activities, and fewer teaching hours for teachers according to their years of service. The decision aimed at streamlining the use of teachers in state schools.

Teachers have threatened measures and pledged to disrupt the start of the new school year if this measure was implemented.