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Moscow News, February 26-March 4, 2003

Teachers Coming Out in Protest

Interview with Alexander Shishlov

The trade unions are organizing countrywide protests in late February to draw the authorities' attention to the salary arrears of budget-financed employees, in particular employees. Some 20,000 people plan to take part in the public actions in Moscow alone. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the new wage system worked out by the government can lead to cuts in the already meagre incomes of a large section of the population.

Alexander SHISHLOV, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Education and Science, tells MN's Andrei Stepanov about possible ways of resolving the problems of wage arrears and increasing teachers' salaries.

Question: Why are teachers in many regions not paid their salaries?

Shishlov: Mainly because the local authorities are inefficient and irresponsible. In addition an increasingly large share of revenues are remitted to the federal budget; accordingly, less and less money reaches regional and local budgets.

Q: What is the solution?

Shishlov: The regional administrations must be made responsible for financing the remuneration of education workers. Amendments to the relevant legislation were submitted by the President to the State Duma last December and will be deliberated in March. The amendments specify that if the municipalities lack the funds to pay wages and salaries, regional budgets must provide the money. I believe that we should go further: Interbudgetary relations must be based on the cost of education per pupil in the region concerned.

Indications are that the authorities of different levels have not yet reached an understanding as to what changes have to be made...

A new Concept of the Remuneration System for Budget-Financed Employees, prepared by the Labour Ministry, is currently under discussion. Its original version relieved the state of the responsibility for the size of the wage. The federal centre was going to guarantee these employees only a minimum wage. Such an approach is unacceptable, as it would lead to lower living standards for these employees in many regions.

We insist that state guarantees must be stipulated by the relevant legislation. This position is supported by the trade unions, the State Duma committee I head, by the Yabloko faction and the rest of the State Duma. Last week the Duma passed a resolution stating that the final version of the government's bill must lay down legal and financial guarantees for minimum wage rates and salaries.

Q: What does the government say about that?

Shishlov: There is a good chance that it will accept our viewpoint. The working versions of the new bill being prepared by the government already mention state guarantees. And Labour Minister Alexander Pochinok is backing this approach.

Q: Have all differences been smoothed out?

Shishlov: No. The state budget specifies a 33% rise in the average wage, effective from October 1 this year. The last pay rise came on December 1, 2001, and living costs have risen considerably since. I believe it would be more appropriate to index wages in accordance with the Unified Table of Rates, before allocating large resources to increase wages; a switchover to the sectoral system of remuneration (as provided for by the Concept) should be made after the allocation. A doubling of wage funds could be projected when drafting the 2004 budget.

Q: In other words, the salaries of teachers and other state-paid employees will stay basically the same until the end of this year?

Shishlov: I believe that salaries can be increased by more than 33%. But this would require amending the Law on the 2003 Budget and the government's relevant bill. The necessary funds can be found because the 2003 budget understates the prices of the fuel and energy we export.

Q: So the only thing that is lacking is political will from our country's leadership?

Shishlov: You could put it that way.

Q: Can public protests by budget-financed employees change anything?

Shishlov: They can, because in a year of parliamentary elections the deputies cannot afford to ignore the demands of these employees.


See also:

Reform in Education

Moscow News, February 26-March 4, 2003

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