A number of outstanding issues between the Government and the Teacher Trade Union SONK in Macedonia have brought education to a halt. The union called for strike since the government wouldn't negotiate on important issues like the penalties teachers could risk to pay following external evaluation procedures. According to the latest change of the education law, a teacher could be fined up 50 € in the monthly salary ( only around 300-400 €) if their evaluation of the students were not similar to those of the external evaluators.

The penalty could be imposed for a period of several months and if repeated the teacher would be fired. "This situation is completely unacceptable", said the European Director Martin Rømer who visited the Macedonian Capital Skopje on the 27 January, the fifth day of the strike.

The President of SONK, Jakim Nedelkov, expressed his defiance concerning the strike even though the government has decided to allow the education authorities to replace striking teachers with willing strike breakers: "We are going to hold on and the government should come to the table" . In the current situation it seems not likely that the strike will be called off unless the government shows some flexibility on the disputed issues.

Martin Rømer had meetings with both the Education Minister Abdilaqim Ademi and the Minister of Labour Dime Spasov in an attempt to reinstate social dialogue and get the two parties to the negotiating table. Martin Rømer said after the meeting "I have tried to see if we could make a space for manoeuvring, but on the other hand I made it abundantly clear to the government that the current consequences of the external evaluation system are unacceptable" , and Rømer continued: " It is actually offending to the whole Macedonian teaching profession that you are at risk to pay from your salary to do your work."

The Government was not ready to abolish the penalties at once, only to discuss the size and the length. But in the following press meeting Martin Rømer said " However I am hopeful that a deal is within reach and the situation can be normalised, it looks like the government needs to think and we agreed to stay in contact."

There was also time for a meeting with the EU Ambassador Aivo Orav to discuss the serious situation. Macedonia has received quite some EU funds for a project on Social Dialogue and that is why it is important that Macedonia sticks to its dialogue commitments. Macedonia is a candidate country to EU and expects to join soon after 2020.

The Teacher Trade Union SONK has 30.000 members and is organising teachers at all levels.