Education sector workers discuss system problems with minister

NEWS 02.12.202018:03
Igor Soban/PIXSELL

Education sector unions said on Wednesday, a year after the longest strike in the history of the Croatian education system, that the government had met their demands regarding job complexity indices but that other problems had cropped up since, which they discussed with Minister Radovan Fuchs.

Ministry rarely hires new workers

SHU teachers’ union leader Sanja Sprem told a news conference that at a meeting with Fuchs on Tuesday, unionists discussed the most important problems that had cropped up during the coronavirus pandemic – parallel work (online and physical classes), self-isolation, and compensation for self-isolating teachers.

She said the union officials also warned about a ban on the employment of auxiliary staff, which was insufficient also before the pandemic, noting that the ministry was hiring new workers rarely.

“People are overburdened, there are not enough cleaners,” said Sprem.

“Primary schools have requested the employment of 791 workers, 28 cleaners have been given permanent employment contracts and 90 fixed-term employment contracts. That means that only 14.9% of the actual needs have been met. The chance of the pandemic ending is greater than the chance of the ministry hiring the necessary school staff,” she said.

She also warned about school employees with fixed-term contracts being laid off just before Christmas, noting that this was being done to avoid paying out Christmas bonuses.

The unionists proposed defining additional programmes for the prevention of stress and additionally motivating teachers and students because the pandemic has been taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

According to an online survey conducted by the SHU union, which covered 511 schools in 14 counties, 96% of the respondents said they worked extra hours, in line with principals’ written or oral instructions, and 95% said that substitute teachers were not paid, Sprem said.

She said that 86% of the respondents are dissatisfied with the ministry’s position that in schools which work in line with Model A (physical classes), work with students in self-isolation is not paid.

Also, 99% of the respondents believe that cleaners have been affected the most by the crisis, and 86% say that the ministry is not answering their queries and that its communication with teachers is not good.

Sprem dismissed claims that there is no transmission of coronavirus in schools.

“The number of teachers who get infected at work is growing on a daily basis. Such situations require adjustment and additional effort of all employees so students can be as safe as possible,” she said.

Online classes no substitute for physical classes

Asked if all schools should switch to online classes, the head of the NSZSSH union of secondary school employees, Branimir Mihalinec, said that the horizontal approach was not good.

“I believe that, depending on the situation on the ground, local COVID-19 response teams should be in charge of making a decision to that effect, in agreement with the national team. There are parts of Croatia where there is not a single infected person and holding online classes there makes no sense,” he said, noting that according to all indicators, physical classes in schools were the only truly effective type of classes while remote education was not a real substitute for physical classes.

“Holding only online classes would be the worst option,” he said.