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Clash between teachers and local authorities over savings plan

A plan by larger municipalities to trim budgets by shortening the working year of some elementary school teachers has outraged educators and brought the threat of legal action.

Henkilö laskee tehtävää liitutaululla. Osa lastentarhanopettajiksi opiskelevista näkee koulutuksen väylänä päästäkseen opettajankoulutukseen.
Image: Timo Jaakonaho / Lehtikuva

Teachers usually begin work a few weeks before the start of the autumn classes, planning lessons for the school year. Now, however, a number of municipalities have decided that new teachers will not be paid for preparation time. Instead, they will start work more or less cold, with only a single day to get acclimatized to their new jobs.

According to Petri Lindroos, negotiations director for the teachers' union OAJ, the paid weeks given for preparations are a decades-old practice that is now being "flushed down the toilet".

"It is understandable that some municipalities have to do something to save money. But these savings are being made in the wrong place. This endangers learning and safety," says Lindroos.

According to the OAJ, the cut in working time is being planned by around 30 local authorities, including the nation's biggest municipalities - Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa.

The plan, if rolled out, will affect teachers hired on both fixed-term and open-ended contracts. OAJ estimates that this will mean that the paid working year will be shorter for thousands of educators.

Municipalities: savings and equal treatment

Municipal governments are looking to cut spending. The new national government under Prime Minister Sipilä says that the public sector needs to find savings totaling around four billion euros, some half of which is at the local level.

As an example, the City of Espoo has calculated that by eliminating paid preparation weeks for new teachers, it can save 250,000 - 300,000 euros this year.

Espoo will be spending a total of more than 271 million euros on basic education this year.

"This [planned savings] is not big money, although of course, with the state making tough decisions right now every hundred thousand on the municipal level should be carefully scrutinized," says Espoo's director of education Sampo Suihko.

Suihko adds that equal treatment of municipal employees is another reason for the plan. Since other employees of local government do not get paid for planning their work, teachers should not either, is the position being taken.

"Safety risk"

Teachers say they fear that eliminating planning work will cause growing confusion in the classroom, even a safety risk.

"During the planning period, teachers familiarize themselves with the curriculum, each school's crisis plan and other safety issues. The teacher must master these before school starts," argues Assistant Principal Heli Haaro of Vanttila elementary school in Espoo.

Negotiations on the issue are to be held, initially on a local level in Espoo. If no agreement is reached, the OAJ and the organization representing municipal authorities national, the KT, will hold talks.

"If a common view cannot be found, the matter with be taken to the Labour Court," states the OAJ's Petri Lindroos.

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