Teachers go on hunger strike

BULGARIA

Thousands of Bulgarian teachers have gone on hunger strike in protest at the government's refusal to raise salaries by pound;15 a month.

High-school teachers across the country have gone on strike and at least 2,640 have stopped eating in a bid to force the government to reform the pay system.

Ivan Gospodinov, from Sliven in east Bulgaria, who is in his second week of protests and fifth day of hunger strikes, said: "Civilised requests and negotiations have gone unheeded. It seems this is the only way to get noticed, which is not only detrimental to us, but also to the children we teach."

Several teachers who are on hunger strike, but are still carrying on with lessons, are reported to have fainted in classrooms.

Anger flared up when the government revealed its 2006 budget allowed for only a 6 per cent increase in teachers' salaries. They are now demanding the government revises its draft budget to include a 15 per cent pay rise for all teachers, who currently earn an average of just pound;100 a month.

Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov has pledged his support to the strikers, saying their claims are justified. He has appealed to the government to put education among its policy priorities.

The protests in Bulgaria follow three weeks of strikes by teachers in neighbouring Romania, which came to an end last week.

Almost 400,000 staff at schools across Romania went on strike when the government refused an 18 per cent rise in salaries, offering just 8 per cent instead.

Trade unions and the government, however, this week agreed to an 11.83 per cent increase after angry parents of more than 4.5 million pupils flooded authorities with complaints.

The average monthly wage for teachers in Romania is pound;125 a month.

Both countries are hoping to join the European Union in 2007.

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