Following weeks of protests in the form of civil disobedience, teachers in Hungary called a nationwide strike demanding higher wages and a fairer workload. While acknowledging some of their demands, the government called on teachers to postpone their strike in view of the war in neighboring Ukraine.
Following weeks of protests in the form of civil disobedience, teachers in Hungary called a nationwide strike demanding higher wages and a fairer workload. While acknowledging some of their demands, the government called on teachers to postpone their strike in view of the war in neighboring Ukraine.Tensions in Hungary’s public education have been simmering for years, centered around wage levels, the direction of national curriculum in state-sponsored education and the lack of qualified staff in the system. Over recent weeks, teachers across the country took to various forms of demonstrations as a recent government decree essentially rendered a nationwide strike illegal.
On February 11, the government approved the so-called Corona Emergency decree, which requires workers in public education to deliver “public service” during a strike. In essence, the decree means that teachers have to ensure the supervision of children in the classroom while all classes for graduates and half of the classes for all other grades must be held. The government’s move followed a warning strike held by teachers on January 31.
In recent weeks, schoolteachers claimed that striking is a fundamental right that cannot be alienated by any government decree and resorted to civil disobedience and other creative forms of protest to draw attention to their cause.
On March 16, the two largest teachers’ unions in Hungary declared an indefinite strike. According to online portal Eduline, teachers did not take up work in hundreds of state and church-run institutions in Hungary.
“The strike is organized because the government must no longer hesitate to respond to the neglect of public education. We ask all parents, colleagues, and Hungarian citizens to support our protest action,” reads a Facebook appeal by the teachers.
According to the union, those who participate in the demonstration will not attend classes in the first round from March 16 to 18, but in the next three days, from March 21 to 23, they will hold 50 percent of the canceled classes. But these will also be “strike days.” Teachers’ Union (PSZ) Chairwoman Zsuzsa Szabó also confirmed that childcare would be provided during the first three days of the strike for those whose parents cannot stay home.
High school and university students as well as parents are organizing solidarity actions and demonstrations across the country in support of teachers.
What teachers want
One of the key demands of teachers is that their salaries be tied to the actual minimum wage. At the moment, the basis for calculating salaries is the level of the minimum wage for 2014, which is HUF 101,500 while the current minimum wage stands at HUF 200,000. While the minimum wage has nearly doubled since 2014, teachers’ salaries have failed to increase at even a remotely similar rate. An elementary school teacher under the age of 30 takes home about HUF 170,000 forints while a secondary school teacher with more professional experience earns about HUF 240,000 net. In international comparison, Hungary occupies the second lowest rank among OECD countries in terms of how much a primary school teacher with 15 years of experience earns.
In addition to higher wages, teachers demand that their weekly compulsory hours be set at 22 hours to decrease their current workload.
Even though the trade unions and the government have held several rounds of negotiations over recent weeks, the parties failed to reach an agreement.
Now is not the time to strike
According to the government, 87% of teachers agree that now is not the time for them to go on strike, said Gergely Gulyás, the prime minister’s chief of staff. The politician didn’t specify the source of this figure. He went on to say a strike was not the most suitable form of protest when there is a war going on in Hungary’s neighboring country and schools have to take care of refugee children.
The Ministry of Human Resources, which is in charge of public education, called on teachers to postpone their strike in view of the war in Ukraine. Zsuzsa Szabó of the Teachers’ Union stressed that the problems in education have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine or refugees, so they will not postpone the strike. “We are striking for the future of our children and for the fact that there aren’t enough teachers in the education system,” she said. Reacting to teachers’ wage demands, Gulyás said the government was negotiating with the European Commission to be able to EU funds for wage increases.
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