Around 11,500 Slovak teachers from more than 700 schools went on strike on January 25, demanding higher salaries and a clean up of the education system. An estimated 2,000 teachers also took part in a protest in Bratislava.
The action comes less than two months before the general elections and has the potential to prove inconvenient for the ruling Smer party as it chases a second single-party majority. Prime Minister Robert Fico has successfully focused the campaign on the migrant crisis. His hardline stance has helped revive support that just 12 months ago was faltering over issues including education and healthcare.
Teachers are asking for a €140 salary monthly hike this year and another €90 rise in 2017. Fico has said the situation can be addressed only after the March 5 vote. He also claims Smer already increased teachers’ salaries by 26% during his first term as PM in 2006-2010 and 22% since its landslide victory over the disgraced right wing parties that formed the coalition until 2012.
"There's no other profession in public administration that has had salaries raised between 2012-2016 in such a way," Fico claimed, according to TASR news agency. He confirmed, however, that if he is a part of the new government, he would like to continue to raise teachers' salaries.
The teacher strike follows protests in the healthcare system. Nearly 1,000 nurses and midwives have handed in their resignation notices in recent months, unhappy with salaries and the lack of money in the system, as well as the "inefficient use of funds".
"For four years we've been negotiating, writing petitions ... but this government has only ignored us,” Nurses and Midwives Chamber (SKSaPA) president Iveta Lazorova said on January 25.
Corruption in the healthcare system has a hot political issue for Smer. In 2014, Pavol Paska, Smer's second-in-command - was forced to resign following a scandal related to a shady tender at a provincial hospital. The health minister was also sacrificed as protesters rallied in Bratislava. Current healthcare minister Viliam Cislak has already survived two no-confidence votes connected to claims of corruption from the opposition.
The only realistic question in the upcoming election is whether Smer will repeat its success of 2012 and form a government on its own. The focus on the migrant crisis has done much to shore up flagging support, with recent polls suggesting Smer currently stands just below the 76 seat threshold.
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