Teachers take to streets as strike action holds firm

About 5,000 striking teachers and students marched in central Athens yesterday demanding higher pay and more funds for education as state officials consider pushing back the end of the school year to make up for lost time. Pre-school and primary teachers were joined by students in a peaceful march to Parliament and the Education Ministry while chanting: «Nothing will stop us. We’ll last till Christmas.» Traffic was blocked off in the city center for more than two hours. Teachers walked off the job a few days into the academic year after demanding a 45 percent pay hike in starting salaries. The government has said it cannot afford to pay for the salary increase because agreeing to such a high increase will also prompt calls for pay hikes from other public sectors. The Education Ministry’s general secretary, Andreas Karamanos, told Kathimerini that the government is thinking about extending the school year into June to make up for lost teaching hours. Other options being examined include trimming the 15-day holiday periods over Christmas and Easter and extending the daily class schedule. According to official data, the 22-day strike action has cost students 39,000 hours of lessons and teachers 59 million euros in lost income. Nine days of strike action called by secondary school teachers, in support of striking peers, has also taken a 24.3-million-euro bite out of their salary. Meanwhile, more than 600 secondary schools around Greece have also been shut down by students staging lockdown demonstrations as they call for more funding in the education sector. Tertiary students are expected to decide today whether they will stage similar protest action as a draft bill offering professional recognition to students from private universities heads to Parliament next week. Teaching unions are planning another public rally on the day the bill will be debated by a parliamentary committee. The Primary School Teachers’ Federation (DOE) is expected to vote tomorrow on a proposal to extend their strike on Monday for a sixth straight week. Teachers are backed by Greece’s two main unions, the General Confederation of Workers (GSEE) and the Union of Civil Servants (ADEDY). Union leaders said on Tuesday that they will continue their protest action after a meeting with Education Minister Marietta Giannakou failed to reach common ground. Likely strike action next week may also jeopardize the traditional student celebrations held every year marking the October 28 national holiday.