President Marcelo
President Marcelo will have to use his powers of persuasion and diplomacy to broker a truce in this long-running dispute. Image: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Teachers deadlock: Minister insists there is no money to satisfy teachers’ demands

President admits he will veto diploma if it doesn’t present “balanced solution”

There is absolute deadlock today in the long running dispute between teachers’ unions and the government, in spite of teachers’ requests for a renewal of negotiations.

Education minister João Costa has said there is no point reopening negotiations, as he simply doesn’t have the money to satisfy teachers’ demands.

When the government agreed in 2018 to ‘return’ two years, nine months and 18 days of careers that had been effectively ‘frozen’ by past administrations, that was the limit, he explains. There is no more money left for the remaining six years, six months and 23 days. 

To be fair this is exactly what prime minister António Costa said months ago – and he explained succinctly why: to do so would put the country’s financial sustainability at risk, adding another €1.3 billion to the Treasury’s annual expenditure on public sector salaries.

Yesterday, João Costa, said the same thing: “We cannot pledge any more, because we know that in terms of financial sustainability, impact on pensions (…) and comparability with other careers in public administration we simply cannot go any further”.

The minister then said that he expects an increase in the number of teachers coming into the State’s education sector next year “due to the great exodus of teachers from the private sector to the public, where work and salary conditions are better”. This will no doubt stand as yet another ‘red rag’ to teachers’ syndicates whose whole focus these last few months has been on how abysmal their work and salary conditions are…

Into this unhappy impasse comes the admission by President Marceo in London today that he will veto the diploma that aims to correct the asymmetries arising from the freezing of the teachers’ career if it does not present a balanced solution. 

“For me it is very important, because if it is a balanced solution, I have no difficulty in enacting it. If it is a solution that is not balanced, I have to return the diploma to the government,” he told journalists on arrival at his hotel in London.

The head of state added that he “would prefer that this doesn’t happen”. But this suggests that it might, opening up the prospect of further ‘chaos’ in the education sector.

As it is, end of term exams and evaluations are all being disrupted by various forms of industrial action as teachers unions (there are at least 10 of them) vow they will “never give up” in their quest for ‘respect’ and ‘validation’.

Says Marcelo, he will wait and see what the government diploma actually says. The text provides for a set of measures that allow accelerating the progression of teachers who worked during the two freezing periods, between 2005 and 2017, explains Lusa.

Marcelo is aware it may not be “a total solution”, but stressed that he believes the vast majority of teachers “are very sensible and understand that the best is the enemy of the good”.

“It is hoped that the Government will provide the good, that is, that it will take steps towards really finding a solution that allows the start of the next school year in a more serene and pacified climate,” he said.

Before deciding on the diploma, Portugal’s Head of State has said he will make a point of meeting with teachers’ syndicates, to hear their points of view.

As for the ‘furore’ over ‘racist’ posters that marred the usual elegance of Portugal Day celebrations, commentators have agreed that they were not racist at all; they were simply rather unpleasant.

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