Slovenian schools closed as thousands of teachers strike

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Blowing whistles and horns, thousands of Slovenian teachers rallied Wednesday for higher wages, the latest in a string of strikes and protests by public sector workers in the small European Union country.

Most schools in Slovenia remained closed as an estimated 40,000 teachers participated in a one-day strike. The job action followed earlier walk-outs by health care employees, police and firefighters.

More than 10,000 people gathered at a central square in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, holding colorful banners and union balloons and flags. Participants were bused in from all over the country.

They demanded that their salaries — around 920 euros ($1,100) a month for junior teachers and 1,200 euros ($1,470) a month on average — be brought in line with other public workers.

"Why is teaching work worth 500 euros ($615) less than the work of others with the same level of education in other areas of public sector?" union leader Branimir Strukelj said.

European Trade Union Committee for Education President Christine Blower came to offer support. She insisted that "this government must surely know that the level of teachers' salaries is a problem in Slovenia."

"Your demands are fair and just," Blower told the cheering crowd. "You must win, you have the arguments!"

There was no immediate response from the government, which has negotiated with the public employee unions in recent months in hopes of averting wider strikes.

Workers' unions are demanding that the wage growth curbed in a 2013 austerity package be restored amid economic growth. The demands put pressure on the centrist government of Prime Minister Miro Cerar before a parliamentary election later this year.

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