“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” Words attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, which may or may not have been in the mind of Poland’s prime minister as he spoke about the future of Poland on Sunday.
Mateusz Morawiecki, and Elżbieta Rafalska, the labour and social policy minister, were visiting Puławy and attending an event to promote the government’s 500+ programme, which gives families with two or more children a payment of PLN 500 (EUR 116, USD 130) a month per child. According to the prime minister, the child benefit programme is an investment in the nation’s future. “Not only does the programme help parents across the country, but it also benefits the state as a whole. “With this programme, Poland is changing beyond recognition,” Morawiecki said.
The prime minister said that the payments “have created a new space for the development” of Polish children and young people and for the entire country. Morawiecki said that the government would not abandon or reduce the programme in the years ahead. For her part, Rafalska said the “Family 500+” initiative was benefiting more than 3.6 million children nationwide, adding that payments to parents have totalled PLN 67 billion (EUR 15.5 billion, USD 17.5 billion) since the programme was launched on April 1, 2016.
Indeed, far from reducing the programme, the plan is to be extended to include all single-child families regardless of income, rather than being restricted to poorer families as at present. This extension is part of a package of measures dubbed the “Kaczyński Five” after Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński who announced the package at a party convention last month.
Of course, for children to be the future they need to be properly educated, which is why the government resumed talks on Monday with teachers in an attempt to avert a teachers’ strike over pay which is scheduled to begin on 8th April, just before pupils at various levels face important examinations.
After the meeting, the deputy prime minister, Beata Szydło said that four out of the five points offered by the government had been agreed upon by both sides. However, the chairman of the teacher’s union, Sławomir Broniarz, said it was too early discuss suspending the strike decision. Talks were to be continued on Tuesday.
The Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) wants the government to increase teachers’ wages by PLN 1,000 (EUR 230, USD 265) a month. In response, the education ministry has said that last year it began carrying out a government plan to raise pay and that spending on teachers’ salaries is set to increase by 16.1 per cent by September compared with March last year.
The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper last week quoted a survey according to which more than six in ten Poles are against teachers striking at a time of important school exams, although respondents to the survey by pollster IBRiS said they were convinced teachers would eventually secure the pay rise they are demanding from the government.
Certainly, teachers’ salaries, like many in the public sector in Poland, are very low, with minimum gross monthly salaries ranging from PLN 2538 to PLN 3483 depending on qualifications. Over ninety per cent of teachers fall within this category. The average gross monthly salary in Poland in February was PLN 4,949.42 (EUR 1,153). Hardly the best way to invest in the future of the nation, to attract and retain the quality of teachers needed to produce the educated citizens needed, one might think.
Of course, all public employees are equal, but some are more equal than others; not everyone has friends in high places. Be that as it may, it is a great shame, and not only in Poland, that those who do essential work – teachers, nurses and so on – are often taken for granted and undervalued. The problem seems especially acute in Poland where salaries in general, and public sector salaries in particular, are far below comparable salaries in the more westerly EU member states.
And therein lies the danger. With free movement folk increasingly have a choice – a choice which Poles have not been slow to exercise – to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Rome might not have been built in a day, but it was built on solid foundations. The challenge for the Polish government is choosing those policies that build the best home for the children, Poland’s future, and in which they are happy to dwell.