Talks will continue as teachers strike

«You’re joking, of course,» was the reply by Education Minister Marietta Giannakou to the question of whether she was likely to resign in an attempt to defuse tension in the education sector. This week, high school teachers join their primary school colleagues in strike action, but the minister made it clear in this interview with Kathimerini that she is simply implementing the government’s central policy of bringing much-needed reform to the country’s education system. In view of reforms planned for the tertiary sector, Giannakou said it was hypocritical to call for reforms and yet also call for the resignation of the person the prime minister had chosen to implement them. These reforms, she added, would be carried out within the government’s current term but she indicated that if there was opposition, there could be early elections. Although the debate continues, the minister said that support for the autonomy of tertiary institutions was non-negotiable, as was the end of the system of allowing students an indefinite period in which to complete their studies. Meanwhile, regarding the decision to grant primary school teachers a raise of 103 euros in six installments of 17.5 euros over six months, she said: «The Finance Ministry believes that this is the only possible arrangement that can be borne by our budget.» Pay increase How much time do primary school teachers have before having to returning to the job? That doesn’t depend on the Education Ministry. First of all, we all have a responsibility to society. The ministry must tell the truth at all times. The government made a campaign promise to give a 103 euro increase to teachers, who comprise 170,000 of the 500,000 civil servants. After consultations with the Finance Ministry, we announced that this increase will be paid over three years in six installments. The total amount is 322 million euros over the three years until 2009. This means 215 million euros a year. The government cannot undermine its overall fiscal policy and overstep the Finance Ministry’s forecasts. Would you consider the possibility of reducing the number of installments? Teachers claim that 17.5 euros is an insult. It is 17.5 euros a month for the first six months, then it goes up to 35 euros and so on. That represents a continual increase until it reaches 105 euros. The Education Ministry has asked for the best possible solution. The Finance Ministry, which is responsible for implementing it, believes that this is the only possible arrangement that can be borne by the budget. Do you see any political expediency being served by the teachers’ insistence on having the schools closed? According to government sources, there is a plan being fomented by PASOK aimed at moving the crisis into the rest of the education sector ahead of the municipal elections. It is only natural that certain parties in the opposition might want to exploit various situations. I myself have no comment to make on that. Resignation rumor During the summer you spoke about certain parties outside the state sector calling for your resignation. Could you be more precise? That isn’t necessary. Everyone knows. When some people maintain that the reforms are in the right direction, but the minister who is implementing them should go, isn’t that absolute hypocrisy? Therefore, those who claim to be in favor of the reforms are either lying or have other reasons behind wanting a minister to go. That is likely, because it is the minister who always tells things as they are. Do you think it is undemocratic, for example, to ask for the resignation of a minister within the framework of a public debate? Anyone can call for the resignation of a minister, but it is up to the prime minister who appoints him or her, and the prime minister is elected by the Greek people. We cannot overlook the institutional role played by each of us. From time to time, various groups ask for ministers to be dismissed. Proposals for confidence votes have also been submitted to Parliament on occasion. That means nothing. The fact that the Greek Parliament, that is, the people, support the government, is what is important. If students carry out more sit-ins when the reform bill is tabled, would your departure make it easier to reform the universities? I assume you are joking. The prime minister personally and the government are not going to forget their duty. Whatever happens, they are not going to let tertiary education, that is, the universities and technical colleges, remain in their current state after 2010. They will no longer be considered tertiary institutions. Early polls Will the reforms be made during the government’s current term? Some of your colleagues are proposing early elections, citing the education reform controversy. I know this is rumored, but I must say that I have been working closely with the prime minister and the issue has never been raised. In your talks with the prime minister, do you have the sense that they will be implemented within this term?