Teachers across Germany are staging strikes to push for a 6 percent pay rise and more fairness in what is in effect a two-class system.

Public workers in Germany are classified either as employees or civil servants. If they are the former, they have the right to strike. The latter can’t strike but enjoy benefits that give them significantly higher net income. They get cheaper healthcare and don’t have to pay into the state pension system.

Police officers, prosecutors, financial authorities and ministries tend to have a high proportion of civil servants among their staff. Many teachers are also civil servants, but the proportion varies widely from state to state. In Berlin, for example, virtually all newly recruited teachers have employee, rather than civil servant, status.

Of Germany’s 800,000 teachers, some 600,000 are civil servants and 200,000 are employees.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, a young teacher who is married with a child and has employee status takes home a net annual salary of just €25,000 ($28,400). That’s a third less than a colleague categorized as a civil servant.

States to federal government: Butt out

As so often in Germany, regional variations make the system complicated. Education is the domain of the 16 individual states and they jealously guard it from federal government interference. As a result, rules and education standards vary widely from state to state.

Past pay rounds have made some changes to narrow the gap but haven’t gone far enough, said Education and Science Workers’ Union GEW which wants new hires to be put in the same pay grades as their civil service colleagues. That would benefit primary school teachers in particular, as well as high-school teachers who haven’t risen through the ranks but switched over from other jobs.

The aim is to make teaching more attractive. “We need to upgrade the profession of teacher if we want to get more new recruits,” said GEW leader Marlis Tepe.

The eastern state of Saxony has started transitioning teachers to civil servant status to attract more people into the profession.

The chief government negotiator, Berlin state finance minister Matthias Kollatz, has pointed out that such measures cost money and have to be factored in to the pay negotiations. The decisive round of talks is due to start on February 28 in Potsdam.

It’s unlikely that teachers will get everything they want this time after securing improved terms in the pay round in 2017. Employee-status primary school teachers in a number of states are already starting to get more money, not least because they’ve got to train almost as long as high-school teachers.

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