Ski trips on slippery slope

AUSTRIA

Austria's secondary teachers have threatened to boycott the "Schikurse", the annual school skiing trip which is the highlight of the year for many pupils.

Elizabeth Gehrer, the education minister, infuriated teachers by abolishing a long-standing practice of a lump-sum payment for overtime. Teachers retaliated by locking out pupils for a couple of lessons while they held protest meetings.

Then it was the pupils' turn. Several thousand rallied in St Stephen's Square in central Vienna. Some supported the teachers, others accused them of greed and laziness.

Public sympathy waned when the minister pointed out that Austrian teachers are not only among the best paid in Europe, but they teach relatively smaller classes for fewer hours. Under the old regulations a teacher who had to take two or three hours in addition to the standard 20 hours a week at the beginning of the year, got the extra cash throughout the year regardless of cancelled lessons. Now they only get paid for overtime actually taught.

A boycott would hit the Austrian tourist industry badly as many resorts depend on school groups to fill hotels off-season.

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