By Marja Novak
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Most schools and kindergartens in Slovenia were closed on Wednesday for the second time this year as teachers staged another one-day strike for higher wages.
Some 40,000 teachers went on strike, according to their trade union SVIZ, and several thousands are expected to attend street protests in 11 Slovenian cities later on Wednesday.
The largest protest with up to 2,000 people is due in front of the government building in Ljubljana. Teachers' held their first one-day strike a month ago.
"We demand wage hikes of between 8 and 12 percent because gross teachers' wages are about 500 euros per month lower than wages of other public sector employees with similar education," Sandi Modrijan, a spokesman of SVIZ told Reuters.
He said the next strike will be held on April 17 unless the government agrees to wage hikes by then.
A number of other public sector trade unions, including nurses, social workers and customs officers, are also threatening strikes, demanding hefty wage increases.
Three months ahead of general election, which is expected on June 10, the centre-left government of Prime Minister Miro Cerar is under heavy public sector wage pressure as trade unions claim economic growth offers room for higher wages.
However, no party has received a direct electoral boost from the strikes.
Slovenia narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in 2013 but returned to growth a year later. The government expects the economy to expand by at least 3.9 percent this year versus 5 percent in 2017, boosted by investments and exports of cars, car parts and pharmaceuticals.
The government had said union demands amount to almost 1 billion euros, adding most cannot be met because they are not justified by productivity and GDP growth and would threaten the planned fiscal consolidation.
Slovenia plans to run a budget surplus of 0.4 percent of GDP this year versus a deficit of 0.8 percent in 2017.
(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)