About 2,000 teachers across Bulgaria began a symbolic "hunger" strike Friday demanding higher wages and increased government spending on education. The teachers will not eat food, but will continue to nourish themselves with liquids such as tea, juice, and coffee, said Veneta Milanova, a teachers' union coordinator in the city of Pernik, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) west of Sofia.
The strike follows weeklong protests in front of the government building in the capital, Sofia, where teachers called for a 15 percent pay rise starting next year, and an allocation of at least 5 percent of the country's gross domestic product for education. "The protest will go on until the teachers' demands are met," Yanka Takeva, head of the National Teachers' Union, told journalists.
Takeva said she and her deputy will join the symbolic strike to show of solidarity with their colleagues' demands. The leader of the country's main labor organization, Zhelyazko Hristov, said that the union fully supports the teachers' demands and will provide any medical help that is needed. He added that the trade unions will call on all school teachers to walk off the job, but did not say when.
There are about 100,000 teachers in Bulgaria's public schools, and their average monthly wage is 300 leva, or Ђ150 (US$175). The government has offered a 6 percent wage increase startinf in July 2006. It plans to spend about 4 percent of GDP on education next year. Earlier this week, Education Minister Daniel Valchev said teachers' demands were "just," but added that the only way of funding a pay hike was through job cuts, a suggestion that teachers said was unacceptable, reports the AP. N.U.