The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) on Thursday supported an ongoing teachers' strike, with the SDP saying that teachers' wages, and not only theirs, could go up by around 13 percent if their demand for a 6.11 percent increase in the job complexity index was met and the non-taxable part of their wages was increased to 5,000 kuna (€675).
"We regret that the first round of talks has failed, we expected the government to have more understanding and set aside the HRK 400 million necessary annually to increase wages in the education sector," said SDP MP Branko Grcic.
He noted that the 6.11% increase and 400 million kuna (€54 million) could definitely be found in the budget considering the announcement that budget revenue would total 3.5 billion kuna (€472 million), but that the real question was what the government's priorities were.
"If education is not a priority, if nurses and doctors... are not, then who is? They are the pillars of a society. If that is so, then finding some 800 million kuna (€108 million) for teachers and medical staff should not be a problem," said Grcic.
Commenting on reports that the government would give up its plan to reduce VAT from 25 to 24 percent, Grcic said that the ruling HDZ party had finally started thinking and expressed hope that the additional two billion kuna to be secured that way would be used to further increase wages and raise the non-taxable income from 3,800 kuna (€513) to 5,000 kuna (€675).
SDP vice-president Rajko Ostojic said that "the chaos in primary and secondary schools may jeopardise the partial (education) reform", pointing the finger at the HDZ as well as its junior coalition partner, the HNS, and Science and Education Minister Blazenka Divjak.
"Had she wanted... to help teachers, she could have solved the problem of wages in May last year when she signed the branch collective agreement," he said.
High school teacher Bozica Uroic, who attended the SDP's news conference, said that teachers' job complexity index had not changed since 2011.
Ostojic also said that the HNS was wrong to think that it could blackmail the HDZ, noting that he did not believe the HNS would leave the ruling coalition over the teachers' strike and that the party was nearing its political end.
HSS supports teachers' strike
At a separate news conference HSS MPs also supported the strike in primary and secondary schools, saying that teachers should have a net monthly wage of 10,000 (€1,350).
The strike is not an act of obstruction of the government or education minister's work, it is a legitimate demand by those who deserve dignity and reputation, the HSS MPs told reporters.
HSS MP Davor Vlaovic criticised PM Andrej Plenkovic for refusing to receive teachers' representatives for talks and for sending Labour Minister Josip Aladrovic to talks with teachers' unions instead.
As for the HNS, its leader Ivan Vrdoljak and Minister Divjak's threats that they would not support the state budget for next year, Vlaovic said that that would not happen.
"People who first tricked their voters and who have now tricked teachers... should be banned from political engagement," he said.
HSS MP Zeljko Lenart said teachers' net wage should amount to 10,000 (€1,350), noting that it was not too high a wage because teachers prepared new generations for life and cared about what kind of people children would grow up to be.
"If 250 million kuna (€34 million) can be invested in the loss-making Croatia Airlines, a firm without a future, the government can also find 400 million (€54 million) for those who help raise our children," he said.
(€1 = 7.41 kuna)