The lowest salary rate for pre-school teachers is in conflict with the Constitution
On Thursday, 29 June, the Constitutional Court recognised the following rules of the Cabinet of Ministers Regulations, which establish the lowest salary rate for pre-school teachers, as incompatible with the principle of legal equality set out in the first sentence of Article 91 of the Constitution. The contested rules have been declared void as of 1 January 2024.
The case was initiated before the Constitutional Court after thirty-eight Members of the 13th Saeima. According to the applicants, the contested regulation is in conflict with the first sentence of Article 91 and Article 107 of the Constitution, as it provides different lower salary rates for pre-school teachers compared to teachers working in other general education levels.
The Constitutional Court determined that the main issue in the case examined was whether such a regulation complied with the principle of legal equality included in the first sentence of Article 91 of the Constitution. In order to clarify the content of this Constitutional rule and to examine whether teachers employed at the general education level share a common and essential feature, the Constitutional Court took into consideration Article 7(a)(i) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which states that everyone has the right to fair and favourable working conditions. Among other things, this implies the right of workers to receive equal pay for work of equal value.
The Constitutional Court emphasised that the principle of equal pay had been recognised as one of the elements of social justice and it is applicable not only to equal or similar work, but also to work of equal value. In the assessment of work of equal value, the Constitutional Court analysed such criteria developed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as the skills, responsibility and working conditions required for the given work.
Pre-school education is the first stage of general education, and the Latvian education system is organised in such a way as to ensure the successful acquisition of the knowledge and skills necessary for a child to successfully transition from pre-school education to primary education and then to secondary education. When assessing the skills, responsibility and working conditions necessary for the work of a pre-school teacher, the Constitutional Court recognised that the identified differences in the work of a pre-school teacher and teachers employed in other general education levels were related to the form, methods and techniques used in the organisation of teaching.
At the same time, the Court recognised that these differences could not be considered significant, since the work of all teachers, regardless of the level of general education at which they work, is directed towards one common goal — to ensure the provision of high-quality general education. The skills, responsibilities and working conditions required to do the work are equivalent, despite the different ages of the children at each level of education. That’s why pre-school teachers, general primary education teachers and general secondary education teachers do work of equal value and are on an equal and comparable level of performance according to established criteria.
When assessing whether there were objective and reasonable grounds for different treatment of these groups of individuals, the Constitutional Court recognised that the Cabinet of Ministers had established a system of remuneration of general education teachers, in which remuneration of teachers was to be ensured not only from the State budget funds and earmarked grants, but also from the municipalities’ budgets. Although the Cabinet of Ministers has decided to tackle the inequality in the lower salary rate of pre-school teachers by 1 January 2025 and has amended the contested regulation several times by gradually equalising the lower salary rate of pre-school teachers, it still differs from the lower salary rate for teachers in other general education levels.
The Constitutional Court recognised that such gradual equalisation of the lower salary rate of pre-school teachers could be based on grounds related to the need to ensure the stability of the budget of the State and municipalities. However, such arguments are not sufficient to justify the legitimate aim of the different treatment. The stability of the State and municipal budgets cannot be used as a justification on its own for different treatment of groups of individuals who are in similar and comparable circumstances according to certain criteria.
Consequently, the Constitutional Court recognised the following rules of the Cabinet of Ministers’ Regulations, which established the lowest salary rate for pre-school teachers, as incompatible with the principle of legal equality set out in the first sentence of Article 91 of the Constitution and recognised it as void as of 1 January 2024.
Linked case: 2022-31-03