Pay and Conditions - Forget Sir or Miss: call me Professor

Austria offers title to teachers to sweeten deal in labour dispute

Richard Vaughan

What would it take for you to agree to longer working hours and a worse pension at the end of your career? Many teachers would ask for more money, but in Austria they are being offered something else - the right to call themselves a professor.

The government hopes that the offer of an honorific usually associated with esteemed university academics will persuade teachers to accept reforms to their working conditions in the run-up to the country's general election next month.

In Austria, the title is a huge status symbol and the government is hoping to give it to every schoolteacher in the country. The decision is the latest move in an ongoing labour dispute between the administration and its teaching workforce.

Teachers have been battling the government for the past 12 years over plans to extend teaching hours from 20-22 to 24 a week and to place a lower cap on teachers' final salaries.

The government has offered to increase teachers' starting salary to EUR2,420 (#163;2,068) per month, up from the present EUR2,025-2,293, but after 33 inconclusive rounds of negotiations it has decided to add the professor title to the deal in a bid to push the changes through.

Currently only teachers at elite secondary schools are allowed to use the title of professor. Other titles, including all aristocratic ones, have been outlawed since 1919 after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But Austrians maintain an enduring love of status and hierarchy, to the extent that choices of title in online forms can run into dozens of options.

Paul Kimberger, chief negotiator for Austria's main teaching union, has objected to the government's offer, saying that the coalition was too slow to involve all the relevant parties in the talks. "I don't think the union should put up with this," Mr Kimberger (pictured left) told newspaper Der Standard. "It is much too late and now, shortly before the election, panic is breaking out."

The government, a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Austrian People's Party, has submitted legislation, but doubts remain over whether it will get a full hearing before the general election on 29 September.

However, John Bangs, who sits on the trade union advisory committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that any attempt by the government to improve relations between itself and the union should be welcomed.

"The relationship between the government and the teaching union has been seriously ossified for quite some time. The two have become completely polarised and I think it makes the Austrian government quite edgy," he said.

And although Mr Bangs was quick to play down the significance of a title, the former head of education at the NUT teaching union in England and Wales believes that the move is a step in the right direction.

"There is no doubt (that the stand-off) needs breaking down. Something needs to change to bring the two closer together, and I think any attempt by the government to recognise the professionalism of teachers is something that should be applauded," he added.

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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