· October 17 Strike – CUFA Trade Union Statement on the October 17 Strike and the Continuation of the Struggle

On October 17, 2023, the first strike at public universities since the Velvet Revolution rocked through otherwise quiet academic corridors of Prague and other Czech cities. Czech universities are legally bound to be apolitical and generally remain aversive to overt activism. However, persistent underfunding, high inflation rates that eat away at real incomes, and rampant inequalities in pay within universities have brought discontent to a boiling point.

The October 17 strike was primarily directed against the Ministry of Education, holding it accountable for the steep decline in public funding for higher education in comparison to other OECD countries. This development is in flagrant contravention even to the “Policy Statement” of the incumbent government, which boldly declared: “The government has an important task of obtaining more funding for education so that public expenditure on education and school services in relation to GDP corresponds to at least the OECD average level.“  The strike was aimed at bringing the government to this very task.

While the Prime Minister regularly flaunts lofty visions of a knowledge-driven economy and of education as a pillar of our future prosperity, the actual policies of his government steer the country in the opposite direction. This abhorrent duplicity applies to all segments of the education sector. That is why we fully support our colleagues – teachers in nursery, primary and secondary schools as well as all non-pedagogical staff – who remain the prime target of further cuts. The CUFA trade union fully supports and stands in solidarity with the schools strike planned for November 27, 2023. No divide and rule politics across the education sector will ever stand a chance.

Indeed, the national level of underfunding is the main driving force of unrest in higher education. However, this underfunding is extremely unevenly distributed across different fields of study. The humanities are particularly hard hit. Average salaries for the same position in two different faculties of the same university can differ by a factor of two to three, even though the faculties are legally units of a single employer – the university. According to data provided by the Rectorate of Charles University, the median salary of a full professor at a poorer faculty of Charles University is below the average salary in Prague, while at a richer faculty it is at almost 2,5 times higher than that of his colleague. This practice, in our opinion, violates the Czech Labour Code. Lawsuits against universities who tolerate such discriminatory practices loom large.

The humanities are invariably at the lower end in terms of real wages. Charles University likes to boast of the achievements of its humanities, while at the same time stunting them. According to the Times Higher Education: World University Rankings by Subject 2024, Charles University is ranked 151-175 in arts and humanities, compared to 301-400 in medicine, biology, or mathematics. In the international evaluation of the Charles University published in 2021, the Faculty of Arts scored the best mark awarded (B+) along with the First Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Science, and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. However, in the case of the Faculty of Arts, the salary levels reflect these achievements inversely. Even lower-scoring faculties enjoy higher levels of average and median salaries across different positions.

With this injustice in view, we call on the Rector and the Senate of the Charles University to immediately revise the pay scale so that each position is aligned with a single unified tariff across all units of the University. Before this change can come into effect through due process, we urgently demand that the minimum levels of pay bands of both academic and non-academic staff, which are currently derived from the country’s minimum wage in the country (!), be revised upwards 30 percent as of the first quarter of 2024.

At the governmental level, the achievements of the humanities seem to invite a particular dissonance from a Minister of Education, a musicologist with a PhD. from CUFA. While the wide variety of fields of study and specialisations is part of CUFA’s heritage and success, the ministry sees it as a problem which ought to be solved through mergers, layoffs, and generalisation of study programmes, which in turn would allow for mass education with higher student-teacher ratios, thereby jeopardising another hallmark of quality education at CUFA.

In other words, the brutish fiscal logic of defunding the public sector by the incumbent government directly targets the very foundation of excellence in education and research that the same government ridiculously pretends to uphold. Academic senates, rectors, and deans end up breaking an ever smaller loaf according to the competing interests within the autonomous universities. This unhealthy and corrupting competition will eventually have to be restrained by a more centralised and unified pay scale in order to abolish the very conditions that had led to the October 17 strike.

 CUFA Trade Union High Committee

Mail to: vos@ff.cuni.cz

Appendix: Minimum Levels of Selected Pay Bands at Charles University as of November 2023

Selected Position                            Gross salary from (in CZK)               Gross salary from (in EUR)

Librarian                                          21.800                                                    886

Lecturer (without PhD.)                29.400                                                  1.195

Assistant Professor                        31.400                                                  1.276

Associate Professor                       34.600                                                  1.406

Full Professor                                  37.600                                                  1.528

Hundreds of employees, particularly in the humanities, suffer from such incomes.

Doctoral Students                        

Minimum monthly stipend of 10.500,- CZK ( 427 EUR), government funded, not revised since 2018.