As the Hungarian government has revoked virtually all coronavirus-related restrictions and obligations, a teachers’ trade union is demanding that the Orbán administration revoke those that restrict their right to strike as well. Trade unions once again took a stand by the strike, as the government made no steps towards settling the situation. In case the government does not come up with a resolution, a nationwide protest will be organized for “all employees” to join by March 16th.
Government refuses to settle the situation of teachers
As the government refuses to settle notoriously low salaries and the workload of teachers in public education, an initial, two-hour-long warning strike was held at the end of January. The Orbán-led government had been arguing up until the very day of the strike that it was unlawful for teachers to strike due to the lack of a binding court decision. Days before the actual strike, the Budapest Metropolitan Court ruled in favor of the teachers and established the legality of the strike. But since the government appealed the decision, it wasn’t a binding one. As the two-hour strike fell on deaf ears, teachers announced a larger-scale strike for March 16th. However, the appeals court, acting on a complaint by the Human Resources Ministry (EMMI), overturned the primary decision and ruled that the strike was illegal.
After this, partly in reference to the epidemic situation, the government quickly issued a decree which made strikes in public education virtually impossible, therefore pointless. The motion has come under criticism from the public sphere. Critics say that the requirement in Hungary’s strike law on providing minimum services was already a restriction on the right to strike guaranteed by the constitution. Having a decree define those minimum services before any talks take place “further restricts the right to strike.”
In reaction, several teachers began acts of civil disobedience, which an increasing number of institutions are joining, arguing that “striking is a fundamental right.”
Lately, even teachers from some church-run schools (churches are outstandingly and increasingly supported by the Orbán government, hence the symbolic importance of this move) joined in the action.
“If all the restrictions are lifted, why is striking still restricted?”
Now that the government canceled the overwhelming majority of the restrictions and obligations that have been in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic, by which they “recognize that there is no justification for invoking an epidemic situation in public schools,” the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) also want the restrictions on striking revoked, arguing:
Striking is a fundamental right which cannot be any further restricted by referring to the non-existent epidemic situation in public education and vocational training.”
Creative ways of striking?
After a recent talk with the Ministry’s state secretary, the president of the Teachers’ Union (PSZ) stated that the government still aims to avoid the strike on March 16th. But the state secretary is no longer referring only to the epidemic situation, but also brought in the war in Ukraine as an argument, Erzsébet Nagy explained.
After the government implemented a decree restricting their right to strike, they may come up with alternative ways of striking, Nagy claimed. Such as to comply with the government decree word for word, which could also hamper school work, as in principle it would be impossible to merge groups or classes, but in practice this is often impossible even without a strike due to illness and teacher shortages.
They promised to reveal further details about this next week.
Movement calls up all Hungarian workers to join protest on March 16th
In case the government refuses to revoke the decree on strike restriction (or of course settle the situation by fulfilling teachers’ demands), teachers’ movement Tanítanék Mozgalom (‘I Would Teach’ Movement) announced a nationwide strike on March 16th.
“In recent years we have used every legal opportunity to let decision-makers and society know that the state of education in Hungary is in crisis,” their statement begins, arguing that “over the past 12 years, children’s outdated…amount of teaching materials, physical condition of buildings and teaching equipment, and the prestige of the teaching profession have not only failed to improve, but have worsened, and we have reached the point where there is a growing shortage of teachers. (…) This is also ‘due’ to the fact that salaries, (…) out of which it is impossible for many to make a living. (…) the real question today is who will teach tomorrow,” they wrote, adding that “We therefore call on the Hungarian government to withdraw the above-mentioned decree as soon as possible, but no later than March 11, 2022 (…) Otherwise, we call on ALL WORKERS to take nationwide solidarity action and display civil disobedience.”
featured image: “Strike is a fundamental right!” (by Hajdúszoboszló’s Bárdos Lajos Primary School); via PSZ- Facebook