ZAGREB, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Teachers and other employees in Croatia's schools began a strike on Thursday protesting against the government's refusal to increase their wages by 6%, a demand which is straining the governing coalition.
Croatian teachers say they are underpaid in comparison to other public sector employees for the tasks they now have to perform. The new school year in September saw the start of a major education reform which the government says will bring it more in line with labour market needs.
Earlier this week the top two teachers unions rejected the government's offer of a 2% hike from this month and then an additional 2% hike from next June.
"That offer is not acceptable for the unions. The strike will start across the country and then it will go on each day in several Croatian counties in a circular manner," Branimir Mihalinec from the secondary school teachers union said on Wednesday after a meeting with the government.
The organizers said they planned the strike until their demands were met. Some 70,000 people are employed in Croatia's primary and secondary schools.
The liberal HNS party, a junior partner in the ruling conservative-led coalition, said on Wednesday it would leave the government if the budget for 2020 did not set aside funds for raising teachers's salaries by 6%.
Education Minister Blazenka Divjak comes from the HNS ranks. The party's potential exit would probably not topple the government, but would make its parliamentary majority very thin.
Last month, the government agreed to raise salaries for doctors and nurses by an average of 7% after a threat by the major healthcare unions to strike at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. (Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Toby Chopra)