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Historic education reform affects 10k teachers – hours, leave, pay to change

A sweeping education reform will completely change the way Finnish vocational school teachers work, get paid and spend their vacations.

Oppilaat Urho Hoikkanen ja Lari Huhtala sähkötaululla
Vocational school teachers will see huge changes to the way they work. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

A historic new education reform in the works will soon start to directly affect the careers of some 10,000 vocational school teachers.

Following a seven-school pilot conducted by education union OAJ and local government employer KT last autumn, teachers will be switching from semester-based to annual contracts. The change will affect vocational teachers' salaries, holiday leave and working hours.

KT chief negotiator Hannu Freund says that a re-organisation this sweeping is very rare in the Finnish labour market. The reform will be implemented in phases by 2020.

"This is a huge change. It's not at all common to completely alter the terms of employment for thousands of people at once," Freund says.

Salaries change with hours

Chief shop steward Venla Olin from Stadin vocational school in Helsinki says the biggest winners in the change will be those who teach social and health care studies. Olin herself is one such beneficiary.

"My salary increased by 500 euros a month, and I also got a whole month more vacation time," she recounts. "The previous maximum vacation was 38 days, but now it's 12 weeks."

Local government employer group KT estimates that social and health care instructors will have more work to do relative to their pay hikes.

Teachers of other subjects such as engineering will have their holidays slashed by about a week, accompanied by a small salary hike. Teachers who previously worked now-defunct adult education centres will have both their paychecks and their working hours significantly (but proportionally) reduced.

Holidays in chunks

The switch to an annual model means that vocational teachers can take their holidays in separate tranches outside of the school year, in May or September.

In future a vocational teacher will receive eight weeks of summer vacation between 2 May and 30 September, to be used in 1-2 portions. The winter holiday period is four weeks, which teachers can use in one to four periods.

What's more, with schools increasingly offering classes in the summertime teachers may also be called in to work during the hotter months. In such cases the vacation period will be postponed.

"Some of them want to have their holidays when schools are closed," says Olin. "But some might be fine with vacationing before or after the expensive holiday season."

Teachers who fall ill while on leave will not be able to reclaim sick days as extra holiday, which cannot be postponed.

Stricter scheduling

A full-time vocational school teacher will be required to work a total of 1,500 hours a year in the new system. The annual mandate includes class preparation time and training days. Schools must provide teachers with schedules before the beginning of the school year.

"Previously the planning has been contractual but unstructured," says Freund. "Some teachers do very little to prepare, while others go overboard and even burn out. This new model brings those extremes closer and introduces some welcome prioritising into the curriculum."

All teachers under both the pilot phase and the eventual fully-fledged reform have to log their working hours. Previously only certain institutions had gone to such trouble.

Olin says that at the Stadin school the pilot obligated teachers to mark up their working hours to the nearest 15 minutes.

"With 600 teachers in the pilot and about 40 hours a year spent on logging hours, that's a whole lot of time to be spending on admin," she says. "Thankfully this will change next semester."

Freund says he believes that teachers will get with the programme eventually.

"Teachers in universities of applied sciences have been registering their hours for years, and there's been no issue," he says.

Chance of redundancies unknown

With so many changes on the way, many fear the reform's rising salaries could result in retrenchments. KT says that social and health care teachers' pay may rise by 10 percent.

Freund says that some teachers will in fact have their pay docked, which may balance out the rise in costs. However, no one yet knows how many teachers will work for more than the standard 1,500 hours per year. Combined overtime pay could send costs soaring.

Employers are also considering the fact that as working hours rise with salaries, that means fewer teachers will be needed.

On top of all this, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government has enacted crushing cuts to secondary education.

"The number of teachers will drop in the long run certainly, if teaching can be organised with a smaller number of professionals," Freund says. "The cuts are sure to mean hardship for some. There may be a bunch of retrenchment talks in the coming years, but there's no way of telling why or based on what."

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