SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) β€” State kindergarten and primary school teachers in North Macedonia began an open-ended strike Monday, seeking substantial pay rises amid a cost of living crisis.

The teachers’ union is pressing the government for annual salary increases over the next two years which would roughly take their average monthly salary from 400 euros now to about 700 euros ($436 to 760) in 2024.

The center-left government has ruled out any new salary increase for teachers this year. It has already increased the minimum monthly salary in the country from 247 to 292 euros, in a bid to ease discontent over high living costs triggered by a sharp hike in energy and food prices.

Annual inflation in the small Balkan country of about 1.8 million increased for the ninth straight month in March to reach a 14-year high of 8,8%, from 7,6% in February.

Education Minister Jeton Shaqiri called on the teachers’ union to join in urgent talks to seek a compromise.

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski called on strikers β€œto put first the interests of children and make sure that the educational process is not disrupted.”