Pay and Conditions - The country where strike action could lead to arrest

28th June 2013 at 01:00
Greek teaching union condemns 'anti-democratic' orders

The life of a teacher in Greece is not what it was. Education funding has been reduced by a third, teaching hours are increasing and there are plans to dismiss thousands of substitute teachers. Schools are being closed and merged, and pay for new staff has been cut nearly in half.

As a result, one of the country's main teaching unions, OLME, called a series of rolling strikes to disrupt this summer's end-of-year exams, which led the government to take draconian measures.

Ministers issued teachers at secondary schools (for children aged 12-18) with "civil mobilisation" orders, which can be brought in during times of "public emergency" to ban workers from striking. Failure to adhere to the ban can result in criminal prosecution and even prison.

Themis Kotsifakis, general secretary of OLME, which represents secondary school teachers, told TES that the Greek government had "pursued an unprecedented, illegal and anti-constitutional pre-emptive act of issuing civil mobilisation orders upon the pretext of disrupting student exams from being run smoothly". Mr Kotsifakis said his union condemned the "anti-democratic and authoritarian" action.

When the government decided to pull the plug on state broadcaster ERT recently, several hundred teachers joined a public sector workers' strike, risking arrest to call for its services to resume.

The government's civil mobilisation orders, issued last month, have been largely successful, however. With exam season drawing to a close, no mass walkouts have taken place.

Ministers now say that they will lift the strike ban, but fears have been raised that it could be reimposed because more public sector strikes are proposed for September.

Since 2010, the Greek government has issued civil mobilisation orders to several other groups of workers, including Athens Metro workers and sailors.

Ageliki Fatourou, a physics teacher at the Peristeri technical high school in West Athens, said that teachers were growing increasingly angry about attacks on their pay and conditions, and on the education system as a whole.

"We have schools with no money which can't afford to buy more paper for their photocopiers; we had schools in the north of Greece which couldn't afford oil for their boilers, with children sitting in freezing classrooms," she told TES.

"The government is asking schools to call on the private sector to sponsor things. They are saying, 'Ask Coca-Cola if you want to rebuild something, ask a petroleum company if you want oil in winter, or ask the parents for money.' We fought for 50 years to have a free education."

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the strike ban for teachers, saying that it "violates Greece's international human rights obligations".

"Times of financial hardship don't absolve governments from their obligations to uphold all human rights, and workers' rights in particular should not become a casualty to the crisis," said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Amnesty's campaigner for Greece.

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