Around 150,000 teachers and other school staff members have been on general strike since Monday [22 May]. The teachers’ protest follows failed negotiations between the National College of Leaders of the FSLI and the ESF (which are the biggest Romanian education workers’ organizations) and the government.
PRESShub wanted to find out directly from teachers what their reasons are for protesting, beyond the official union releases.
“It is about salaries”
Violeta Văcaru, a teacher at the school in Jebel (Timiș county), replied that she chose to go on strike both because of salaries and because of the attitude of those in charge of the country.
“I’m on strike because of salaries, which have not reached the grid according to law 153 of 2017, even though we are in 2023, because of working conditions, because of the attitude of those who run this country and don’t give a damn about education. There are many reasons.”
Violeta Văcaru also told us that her current salary is quite modest. Without her husband’s help, she would not have been able to make a living.
“Honestly, my husband helps me. Otherwise it’s very hard. Our daughters are grown up, they’re almost independent, we don’t live with rent, so we’re in a happy situation. But I think about my young colleagues who can’t make a living from their starting salary”
, Violeta Văcaru explained.
The teacher from Jebel also talked about what she thinks should be changed in order to improve schooling in Romania.
“I think the curriculum should be changed, but also the attitude of those who write the law related to education. It is useless for us to come with our point of view, unfortunately nobody listens to us”.
“The salary of new teachers is disrespectful”
Ruxandra Achim, a teacher at the “Ion Luca Caragiale” National College in Bucharest, explained the reasons for her protest.
“According to the discussions that the Union has held on our behalf, we are starting with the right percentage of GDP, that is the 6% that has never been given. The newly employed teachers, the beginners, are very poorly paid. They have a salary that shows a lack of respect for this profession and obviously for the raises that involve teaching grades, seniority and all the rest. These are the reasons.”
Ruxandra Achim also says that those freshly employed in schools are finding it very hard to live on with the current salaries in teaching.
“It’s very difficult. The salary of 2,500 lei is not a happy option for someone at the beginning of their career, who might be eager to start a family, to raise a child, to buy a house, although I think this is becoming more and more complicated for young people. Those with longer experience, of course, have a number of financial advantages, but they come with the seniority grades that bring the salary up to, let’s say, borderline decency. We live in a society where people don’t just look at you for being smart and doing nice things for children. Teachers also have to make a living from something above the limit of decency”,
explained Ruxandra Achim.
“I don’t know if there is a solution any time soon”
When it comes to what should be changed to make the education system in our country better, the teacher finds the discussion quite complicated.
“I don’t know if there is a solution anytime soon. First of all, society should change its profile, be less consumerist. It should consider that education really gives you a long-term possibility. Nowadays, of course everyone wants to work, it’s all very well to work, but after you’ve accumulated some theoretical aspects.
Then, going back to some healthier classical elements . After all, if I compare the school I went to with the school I go to now, my school was much better. We just learned more. Obviously, from the many hours we spent during the lessons, some were less useful. But from those many hours, even if it seemed difficult, the child retained a satisfying amount of information. If you act otherwise and offer just a small amount of knowledge, the child will learn even less and less.
Now, of course, people have a big problem with this idea of quantity, but after all, memory is a function of the brain, meaning it helps you do a lot of things. I am not speaking of necessary memorization of everything, but… memory produces a database that allows you to think critically. Therefore, the idea of completely excluding all memorization activities in favor of creativity would put us at the stage where we are constantly inventing the wheel.
Let’s learn how the wheel was invented and if we can bring something extra, great. I mean there are things we need to master. This is obviously not where Google or artificial intelligence competes with us, because somebody has to operate with some information.
We should also give more space to reading, this develops our ability to nuance our ideas. Here the family plays an important role because the family is the child’s first library. The family must guide the child towards reading, discuss it with the child. A family has one, two or three children, a teacher has 30″
Private schools’ teachers support those on strike
Marcel Bartic, a teacher with more than 11 years’ experience in the private sector, said that although he was not protesting, he felt solidarity with his colleagues.
“I am not on strike, I work in a private school and we are not on strike. I expressed solidarity with my colleagues at the state schools, with some of them, with those who really understand their mission”
Marcel Bartic also told us why in his view the state teachers’ strike was justified.
“Our education system needs serious funding. Obviously, salaries need to go up. You can’t ask for performance and commitment if the pay is more than modest, but the pay increase should also come with some form of performance evaluation in the education system,”
said Marcel Bartic.
The strike has caused chaos in Romania
The strike by 150,000 teachers and support staff has led to chaos across the country. With the announcement of the protest, union members advised parents not to send their children to school, putting parents in a delicate position.
At this point, it is not known exactly how many teachers are on strike and how many have continued to hold their classes, even though the Ministry of Education reportedly has a centralized list of them that they have not made public.
“On 18 May 2023, the Ministry of Education requested from the county school inspectorates/the Bucharest Municipal School Inspectorate the numerical situation regarding the participation of employees in state pre-university education establishments in the general strike announced by the representative federations in pre-university education. Please note that the request concerned the number of participants in the strike and not nominal tables of those taking part. Please be assured that any request by the Ministry of Education is made in compliance with the legislation on the protection of personal data and in accordance with the powers relating to the coordination and monitoring of teaching activities and extracurricular activities of students,” the ministry said.
Union leaders negotiated at Victoria Palace for more than two hours on Sunday 21 May, but failed to reach an agreement with the government. The executive was willing to offer bonuses for new teachers, bonuses for teachers in disadvantaged areas and pay rises for non-teaching staff, according to Edupedu.
The unionists warned that the strike would not end until an agreement was reached.
“We warn the Romanian Government that if in the immediate future it does not seriously engage in solving the problems that are the subject of the general strike in education and does not come up with proposals that will be accepted by union members, education workers are determined that, in parallel with the general strike, they will take to the streets en masse,”
reads a press release issued by the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Education, the Federation of Education Trade Unions “SPIRU HARET” and the National Trade Union Federation “ALMA MATER”.
In the same document, it is stated that alarm signals have been raised since 2021, but have not been taken seriously. The activists claim that on December 6, 2021, they submitted 163,000 petitions of education employees to the Government’s Registrar’s Office, asking for an emergency salary increase, and a few days later they picketed the Romanian Government headquarters. A similar action also took place on 13 January 2022. Not a week later, teachers staged a warning strike that lasted two hours. On 21 February this year, another press release announced the current strike, which was preceded by another warning protest on 17 May.
This text has originally been published in Romanian by PressHUB. It is translated and republished by Cross-Border Talks on the basis of partnership between our media.