Education Minister Marietta Giannakou dismissed claims by teachers’ union groups yesterday that the school year has started off with thousands of vacant teaching positions. «When the vacancies arise, this occurs because of illnesses or due to other causes. The Education Ministry has secured from the Finance Ministry the necessary funds for replacements,» Giannakou said. The government is facing protest action from preschool, primary and secondary school teachers who are seeking the hiring of more staff as well as pay hikes. Further tension arose with unions yesterday when university professors failed to appear before a parliamentary committee on education in order to submit their views on the proposed changes. The Panhellenic Federation of Teaching and Scientific Personnel (POSDEP), the university teachers’ union, said in a note sent to the committee that the reforms do not provide for free state tertiary education. Sources said that POSDEP is planning strike action in response to the planned changes.