Many municipalities across Finland say that financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis will force temporary layoffs of staff this autumn.
According to the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ), such furloughs would also affect teachers in 18 municipalities, as schools reopen next week.
The OAJ's chair, Olli Luukkainen, condemned the plans in an interview on Yle's TV breakfast programme on Tuesday.
"Furloughs are related to a reduction in workloads, but in this situation, that's a really big contradiction. Money decides everything. In our opinion, there are other options as well," Luukkainen said, but did not offer specific alternative money-saving plans that municipalities could implement instead.
Andersson: Cancel teacher furloughs
Minister of Education, Li Andersson, said she was very concerned about the municipalities' plans to furlough teachers and early childhood education workers.
"I'm making a sincere appeal to municipal decision makers that the status of children and young people's right to education should be prioritised now. This is the moment when we need professionals in early childhood education and teachers to be at work," Andersson said, adding that municipalities cannot lay off educators and also still receive additional coronavirus-related state support.
"It is not in the spirit of the grants. The terms and conditions state that municipalities may have to pay back the grant money to the Ministry of Education and Culture if they lay off early childhood education teachers or other teaching staff for which the additional funding is granted," the minister said.
The Finnish government has issued additional coronavirus-related support grants of 70 million euros towards primary education and 14 million euros towards early childhood education.
Meanwhile, an additional 17 million euros in grants was issued to secondary schools and vocational institutions received 30 million euros. The extra support package amounts to a total of 130 million euros.
If municipalities go ahead with teacher furlough plans, those funds will be recovered, Andersson said.
According to the OAJ, 18 municipalities are planning to furlough an unspecified number of teachers. The union said nine of the municipalities would carry out the furloughs as schools start next week, and the remainder would be furloughed later in the school year.
Municipalities planning teacher furloughs as school year begins
Municipalities planning teacher furloughs during the autumn: