Thousands of Romanian teachers protest over pay as strike ends its third week

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Thousands of Romanian teachers marched in the capital Bucharest in protest over pay on Friday as they concluded a third week of strike action.

Teachers went on strike on May 22 for the first time since 2005, and thousands have since held protests across Romania, chanting “Dignity”, “We dare” and “We won’t give in.”

Unions have asked for a 25% wage increase for teachers and investment to boost infrastructure and teaching supplies and demanded that new teachers’ wages are raised to at least the national average.

A new teacher in Romania currently takes home roughly 2,400 lei ($521.65) per month, just under half the national average net monthly pay in Romania.

The coalition government, however, has only approved a decree to raise salaries by 1000 lei ($217.35) a month before tax, and offered European Union-funded annual bonuses.

The government has allotted a little over 3% of GDP for the education sector this year, even though the country has previously vowed to boost spending to 6% of GDP.

“Sadly, the government’s decision does not meet our demands, so we will continue fighting until we are heard,” Lucia Pascaru, who has been teaching for seven years, said on the sidelines of Friday’s march, which local media said was attended by over 10,000 protesters.

“We have seen much better pay in other sectors, even sectors which do not require graduate studies,” Pascaru said.

Unions have said the strike action is indefinite.

Parents and students have so far supported the strike, even if its extension threatens pending graduation exams.

The government, which has seen its revenue underperform this year and is under pressure to lower the fiscal deficit, has committed to change its salary legislation for the entire public sector under a reform package agreed with the European Commission in exchange for recovery funds.

Healthcare workers and police also staged protests earlier this week over pay and investment, warning of possible strike action.

The public sector wage bill, if approved, would result in gradual pay increases but the legislation will not come into effect until next year when Romania also faces general and presidential elections.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie, additional reporting by Andreea Campeanu; editing by Susan Fenton)