After the government said it would not deliver on its promise to give a 10-percent raise to university professors next year, one of them found an original way to protest the situation.
This week, Mažvydas Jastramskis, an associate professor of political science at Vilnius University, lets a mobile phone substitute for him during the first four and a half minutes of each lecture.
Four and a half minutes is ten percent of the lecture, the share that the government had promised to raise pay for university professors and researchers.
Several of his colleagues have joined the action and the university's rector Artūras Žukauskas has expressed support.
A number of unions of university workers are considering calling a strike. Sigitas Vaitkevičius, the president of the Lithuanian Higher Schools Trade Union, says that communication with the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport has broken down.
“We are currently preparing a survey [...], but all trade union members support the idea [of a strike] and [they] are ready to take their people out,” Vaiktevičius tells LRT RADIO. “We are determined to strike outside the Finance Ministry and the government building.”
In spring last year, a negotiating group considered proposals for raising public sector pay. Trade unions then secured a promise that pay for professors, researchers and other full-time university employees would be raised at least 10 percent each year from 2020 until 2025.
Recently, however, the Ministry of Education said the 17 million euros needed to deliver on the promise were not included into the government's spending plan.
“It is not solely up to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. Most of the responsibility for budget allocation lies with the Ministry of Finance,” says Education Vice-Minister Valdemaras Razumas.
Rūta Žiliūkaitė, the union president of Vilnius University's Faculty of Philosophy, insists that universities struggle to retain teaching staff and even the 10-percent raise would hardly solve the problem.
“The problem is that our politicians do not realise the severity of the situation,” she says.
“We can admit that the state does not have a vision for science,” she adds.
Justas Nugaras, the dean of the Aviation Institute at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, says that associate professors in Lithuania make about 1,000 euros a month. “An active researcher could be earning a little more, but this is far from adequate, bearing in mind that recent university graduates expect to make 800-900 euros,” he says.
Meanwhile Vice-Minister Razumas notes that university teachers and researchers make more than the country's average wage, which is 813 euros a month.
“One could put all blame on the Ministry of Education, but bear in mind that, since 2017, all the investment went into raising pay for staff rather than improving higher education and research,” he tells LRT RADIO.
Accusations that nothing has been done are quite unfair, he adds: in 2018-2019, the government allocated 23 million euros for university teachers' pay raises.