Discriminatory pay plan sparks union protests
In the UK, pensions are causing huge discontent among teachers; in the Czech Republic it is pay.
Plans by the government in Prague to introduce different levels of pay depending on whether teachers have been to university have sparked a fierce backlash.
Members of the Czech-Moravian Trade Union of Education Workers (the CMOS PS) launched a campaign of protest in March against the move, which would mean that experienced teachers who did not attend university would be paid less than their younger peers, regardless of the number of years they have spent in the classroom.
Union leaders said university-educated teachers in secondary schools would be able to command starting monthly salaries of 20,000 koruna (pound;736), while those with longer track records would only earn 14,050 koruna (pound;517).
The government said it introduced the measure to encourage older teachers to upgrade their qualifications, but the CMOS PS told The TES that it viewed the move as discriminatory.
The Czech Republic is one of the smaller former Communist countries in Europe, with a population of around 10.5 million, but it was also one of the most active in opposing the Soviet-backed regime that ruled the land from the end of the Second World War until the upheavals that brought down the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That tradition of dissent still looks to be in rude health, if the CMOS PS (the largest trade union in the education sector) is to be believed.
Union vice-president Marketa Vondrackova told The TES that in order to get a public hearing at the parliament or senate, you need at least 10,000 signatures on a petition, but the union has managed to collect 26,000.
By British standards, this might not seem many, but when you consider that the CMOS PS has around 35,000 members, its efforts seem much more impressive.
The Czech government's plans, Ms Vondrackova said, also entail cuts to other services in health and, indeed, pensions. On 21 May, public sector unions staged a demonstration in the capital that was supported by 50,000 people.
She added that the protests were having an effect. "Thanks to our protests, the government decided against its earlier plan to increase the number of lessons that our members would have to teach," she said.
Current CMOS PS campaigns are not only defensive, according to the union's vice-president.
"Teachers, as a whole, are paid just 98 per cent of the national average salary," said Ms Vondrackova. "And we do not think this is enough."
The Czech union says it is prepared to consider strike action as a "last resort".
It is also increasingly concerned about falling standards of pupil behaviour, but there is one area where Czech teachers do not share the same anxieties as their UK counterparts, Ms Vondrackova said: "In the past 10 years, discipline has become worse in our schools. But we do not have a problem with inspections. In that area, the level of co-operation (with the authorities) is fine."