Interview for IBNA with the head of the Union for Education, Science, Culture in FYROM, Jakim Nedelkov
Interviewed by Naser Pajaziti
Union for Education, Science and Culture has warned a general strike on Monday in the schools of the country. The head of this union, Jakim Nedelkov underscores in an interview for IBNA the reasons for this strike. He says that they are forced to enter a strike due to the low wages, lack of conditions in teaching and other problems. Nedelkov says that the majority of teachers face institutional pressure and pressure from school principals in order not to hold the strike. “The Union wants negotiations with the Ministry of Education in order to come at an agreement, otherwise, strike will start on September 29”, says Nedelkov.
Are you determined to start the strike on September 29 or is there a chance for compromise with the Ministry of Education?
As a Union, we have unanimously decided to start a general strike on September 29 and for this, we have the support of 87 union branches throughout the country. We’re predicting for 20 thousand teachers to be part of the strike and to express their discontent. But, on the other hand, we’re open for negotiations, in case there’s a willingness to sit and talk until the end of the week with the Ministry of Education and other government responsible agencies. In case this happens, then the strike may be put on hold, thus giving way to the solution of our demands.
Why did you decide to hold a strike? What are the demands that you want to be fulfilled?
As a union, we demand higher wages for kindergarten, elementary and high school teachers, the signing of collective agreements in order to remove unlawful differences in salaries for the same job. We’re against testing students at the end of the year by the Ministry of Education and we demand for politics not to meddle with education. As far as salaries of teachers are concerned, it’s under the average income in the country and the average incomes in the country are over 300 Euros a month. We have demanded several bylaws to be examined for elementary and high schools as far as penalties and sanctions against teachers are concerned through financial means. These are severe penalties, which must be softened and a compromise must be achieved in this aspect.
In the recent days, you have declared that the majority of teachers or members of your Union are undergoing pressure in order to give up from the strike. How well founded are your claims?
In this period, we’re seeing unprecedented pressure and different forms to make the strike fail. This is seen in the declarations issued by the minister of Education and other government officials, who say that the strike is anti constitutional, because this strike is a loss for the children who are unable to attend classes. We have different facts that prove this pressure coming from school principals, heads of communes and state officials. But, we’re determined to enter the strike and fight in order to meet our goals. We’re witnessing the fact that different methods are being used to make the strike fail and manipulations alleging that we as a steering committee, have organized this scenario to win another term in office.
How do you predict the strike and its length?
The strike will be held in a classic form, meaning that teachers will go to schools, but they will not teach. In kindergartens, in the first three days, children will be admitted and there will be care for them, but after the third day, if there’s no solution, then no children will be admitted, because teachers will stop their work until a solution is reached. The strike will continue until the conditions are met.
Prime minister Nikola Gruevski said that the strike has been encouraged by the steering committee of the Union for purposes of reelection and other purposes, while in the past, the government reforms in education have been backed. How do you consider these accusations?
Such claims are unfounded. As far as these reforms are concerned, we as a union, have always backed the reforms started by the government in the domain of education. We also back true reforms, but we demand our criteria to be met or to start a serious dialogue. We have always demanded this, but we have never had concrete results. We have also recently demanded dialogue and a solution to our demands, but the will has been lacking to find a solution.
Do you have the support of other unions and other institutions inside and outside of the country?
Our union and the strike that has been warned, has great support by our branches and 87% of them are in favor of starting the strike. But, we have also received support from abroad, because we communicate with different union organizations. Recently, we were supported by the American Union of Teachers, Education International, European Education Confederation, but also by all education unions in the West Balkan countries. I don’t want to comment the reactions of several unions which are entirely political and have nothing to do with education and which have recently expressed themselves against our strike. /ibna/