The school year in Hungary began this month amid protests by teachers over low wages and limitations on the right to strike in the education sector who have gone to court. “civil disobedience”.
Since the start of classes, on September 1, teachers in institutes or schools suspend classes for several hours or for full days, to denounce their bad situation. “There is a very serious crisis in education.”explains to Efe Tamas Totyikof the Pedagogues’ Union (PSZ) and highlights the lack of funding as the main problem.
The ultra-nationalist government, led by the controversial prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has cut spending on 5.8% public education of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010 to 3.8% in 2021.
Thus, the salaries of Hungarian teachers are among the lowest of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while the work time dedicated to education is the highest. While there is currently 146,000 full-time teachersmissing more than 16,000 teachers in the systemassured the trade unionist.
The lowest salaries in the EU
Primary and secondary teachers have been demanding job improvements and salary increases for years, which in the case of a newly incorporated teacher, barely exceeds 420 euros net per month. The most veteran teachers, after decades of practice, do not reach the 1,000 euros per month and at the end of August negotiations between the unions and the Government on salaries stalled.
The Minister of the Interior, Gergely Gulyas, conditioned in June the increase in salaries to the arrival of the recovery funds from the European Union (EU), that are pending due to the drift of the rule of law in the country. That yes, the Government recently announced that it increases the salary of the police up to 44%and soldiers also have higher salaries starting in September.
The Government recently announced that it is increasing the salary of police officers by up to 44%
“Teachers’ salaries are the lowest in the EU and schools face difficult problems, since everything is very centralized,” says a teacher at a high school in the center of Budapest who prefers to remain anonymous. “For example, to buy chalk you have to go through long administrative processes,” he assures Efe .
In 2016, the Government created the so-called “school district centers”, run by government appointees, who oversee everything related to education. Despite this, many teachers say they do not want to give up teaching, since “the vocation is stronger”.
Others, like Fruzsina Lakatos, a teacher at the “Jedlik Ányos” institute in Budapest, say they see many teachers over 50 they no longer have hope for things to change and do their job without protest. “If from tomorrow we all said that we are not going to work and we did it for weeks, maybe some change could be achieved,” says Lakatos.
Limitations of the right to strike
The teachers’ room for maneuver is not very wide, after the Government limited the possibilities of striking in May by determining a series of “minimum services”. These include various provisions such as, among others, the ban on canceling classes for high school students.
“It is a law that makes it impossible to strike“, assures the Democratic Union of Pedagogues. Last week, more than 5,000 high school students demonstrated in support of teachers, while the different unions have announced more strikes and more civil disobedience for the coming months.
Last week, more than 5,000 high school students rallied in support of teachers
The Government, instead of offering solutions to the teachers’ claims, accuses them of fomenting the indiscipline of the students. “The lack of respect for written rules will most likely encourage students to consider what school rules to follow or not,” said Zoltán Maruzsa, Secretary of State for Public Education.
The results of students in Hungary in the last PISA survey, from 2018, improved slightly, although the clear downward trend since 2009, the last year before Orbán came to power, continues.