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While even government politicians now admit that a wage hike for teachers is much needed, other than the promise of one, not much else is ensuring an increase in the near future. Meanwhile, the opposition has made the issue an important point of their campaign ahead of next year’s elections.

Teachers’ low wages have long been the center of criticism. According to a recent comparison, their wages are so low that the basic salary of those working in the sector with 3-5 years of professional experience does not exceed the payment of the monthly minimum wage for skilled workers. A beginner teacher’s gross monthly salary at the moment amounts to HUF 230,000 (EUR 644), while one with an MA degree and 6-8 years of experience normally earns some HUF 263,000 (EUR 737) gross plus an allowance of HUF 26,000, according to eduline.hu.

In addition and somewhat consequently, Hungary has long been affected by a teacher shortage. It was the Statistical Office (KSH) itself that reported a few weeks ago that the number of job vacancies in the education sector had reached a new record high. Older teachers are retiring, and young people do not choose this career due to many factors, including the very low wages. At the moment, there are roughly 146,000 teachers, according to eduline, but this number is estimated to decrease by 22,000 in five years’ time.

As a result, several relevant experts go as far as to predict that if we don’t put a stop to the current trend the situation will spiral out of control in less than a decade.

Teacher Shortage in Hungary to Spiral Out of Control in a Few Years
Teacher Shortage in Hungary to Spiral Out of Control in a Few Years

"The most outrageous thing is the beginner teacher, whose net hourly wage is 920 forints (EUR 2.64),” according to teacher's trade union PDSZ.Continue reading

Still, government politicians regularly procrastinate about the solution, with recent arguments saying that “the economic situation does not allow for it.”

Family Minister: “Not realistic” to change current calculation

After the school year began without any financial changes and the nearing elections, the issue has been put back on the agenda. While state secretary for Budapest developments, Balázs Fürjes (who will probably run in Budapest’s 12th district in next year’s elections), began his campaign with the wage hike saying that it should be raised before the elections, the family minister recently gave an evasive answer.

As a matter of fact, according to the lifetime career model, teachers’ salaries had been linked to the minimum wage. However, according to an 2015 modification, the minimum wage’s 2014 level has been made the salary’s projection base (the minimum wage was HUF 101,500 (EUR 284) at the time), meaning that it didn’t follow the increase of the minimum wage, which by next year will be double the 2014 figure.

In response to a question in ATV, Family Minister Katalin Novák admitted that an increase was much needed. However, she also said that it was not realistic to change the current logic of the calculation.

“A teacher’s career isn’t linked to the minimum wage (…) I don’t feel it viable to change the current logic in any fundamental way,” she said, adding that she hoped to find a solution before the elections.

The government is promising to engage in a large-scale minimum wage hike for next year, raising it to even HUF 200,000/EUR 560) for unskilled workers. As a result, to our current knowledge this wouldn’t affect teachers’ salaries. However, with the expected rise of the minimum wage for skilled workers, younger teachers will earn more since they have university degrees- they cannot earn less than the minimum wage for skilled workers. So teachers with years of experience will earn as much as 17-year olds who have just finished their three-year vocational training.

Novák, however, also stated that the government was working to settle the situation in this governing cycle.

The entire opposition wants a solution

Amid discontent among teachers and their trade unions, the opposition parties have put the issue on their electoral agenda. Centrist green LMP and the Socialists (MSZP) promise to link teachers’ salary to the current minimum wage, meaning an immediate 30-35% pay increase. “A commitment that we will have to make to keep teachers in the field,” MSZP co-leader Ágnes Kunhalmi said earlier.

Gergely Karácsony’s 99 Movement also vows to increase their salaries, while Jobbik and Momentum would raise the salaries of school staff up to the average salary of graduates. “We will have to make changes as quickly and as far-reaching as possible,” said Momentum president and candidate for prime minister, András Fekete-Győr.

featured image illustration via Zoltán Balogh/MTI

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