Tartu cultural workers holding out for pay increase and additional benefits

Late last year, cultural workers employed by the City of Tartu gathered in Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats). Placards in hand, they voiced their dissatisfaction with their level of pay and presented a “Christmas tree of shame” to the local government. Now, negotiations are underway between the cultural workers and the city on a new collective agreement. The cultural workers are not only demanding a higher minimum wage but also want more benefits than before.

The last collective agreement between the City of Tartu and its cultural workers was signed in 2016. It has long since become outdated and several aspects are now in need of revision.

Last December, in an ERR News feature article, Siim explained, that as things stand, those working at Tartu’s state-owned cultural institutions, such as the Estonian National Museum (ERM) and the Tartu Art Museum (Tartmus), are paid more than those who essentially do the same jobs, but work for city-run organizations like the Tartu City Museum and the City Library.

Tartu’s city-employed cultural workers have therefore, proposed the introduction of a new salary structure based on six different pay grades, along with a minimum wage rise to just over €1,900 before tax.

The proposed changes would increase Tartu cultural workers’ salaries to a level 20 percent above that of the current national minimum wage for those employed in the cultural sector. Ants Siim, curator of educational programs at the Tartu City Museum, is one of the leaders of the protest.

In his view, the proposed minimum wage increase would go some way towards bringing the salaries of cultural workers employed by the city in line with those who work in state-run institutions.

“We’re not talking here about the fact that it should be the same, because the reality is not that simple. However, our proposal is that, the difference should be tens, rather than hundreds of euros,” Siim explained.

The protestors are now demanding, that professionals with higher educational qualifications working in Tartu’s city-run cultural institutions, including curators and researchers, see their gross monthly pay raised to €1,936.

As Siim also told ERR News last year, their aim is for this to be the baseline for salary calculations, “so everyone’s salaries would then be calculated in proportion.”

In practice, that would mean chief specialists and managers at Tartu’s cultural institutions receiving gross monthly salaries of €2,000. The minimum rate for specialists, who have only completed secondary education, would be 20 percent below that. Administrators would get €1,550 a month before tax.

Tartu Deputy Mayor Lemmit Kaplinski (SDE) said, that the city government has not yet discussed the minimum wage issue with its cultural workers. In his view however, it is clear is that the proposal to introduce a pay system based on six different grades is too complex to be introduced. The city is also not in a position to provide a minimum wage €300 a month higher than the state.

“This would mean completely turning the tables. However, we also have to take a realistic look at our budget, from which kindergarten teachers, support workers and social workers also want to be paid. So, we do not foresee this kind of option (being pursued) in the near future,” said Kaplinski.

The new version of the collective agreement currently being drafted includes a proposal by the city to introduce a basic vacation entitlement of 35 calendar days for cultural workers in all departments.

“We are removing any differences between vacation entitlements,” said Kaplinski, adding that some institutions still have systems, where vacation allowances vary according to seniority.

Cultural workers are also keen to see some additional leave options included in the new agreement. They would for instance, welcome the one or two days, which sometimes fall between a public holiday and the weekend, being counted as additional paid vacation days.

Tartu cultural workers protest. Author Michael Cole

They would also like to see three days a year set aside for employees to do charity work, use as wellness days, or participate in other similar activities.

“The City of Tartu could want to be a kind of forward-thinking 21st century employer. Unfortunately, we don’t see that at the moment. In terms of human resources policy at least, here in Tartu, it seems that this sort of incentive package has not been created or designed,” Siim commented.

According to Kaplinski, the heads of the city’s cultural institutions already have the right to make these kinds of decisions themselves. Therefore, he said, that it is not necessary for the city to interfere in these issues, nor should they be incorporated into the future collective agreement.

Kaplinski added, that the city is aiming to reach the stage where a new collective agreement has been signed by both sides before the end of this year.

However, Siim said, that if no progress is made by the beginning of summer, the cultural workers will turn to the national conciliator to seek a resolution.

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