While in a first instance ruling the teachers’ warning strike was ruled lawful, the Municipal Appeals Court of Budapest now ruled otherwise. The government refuses to settle the issue of teachers’ salaries.
Low salaries and staffing problems in public education have long been on the agenda in those media outlets not under the government’s influence. Several comparisons confirmed that public education is one of the lowest paid professions in Hungary. Not independent of this fact, the Ministry of Human Resources’ (EMMI) latest statistics foresee big staffing problems to come: while in 2018, six thousand new teachers started in the profession, this number has dropped to two thousand as of 2020/2021.
Last year’s negotiations all failed with the government, as the Orbán administration promised a major wage increase only for 2023, while for this year a 10% hike (in the form of a wage supplement which can be taken away at any time) and an increased cafeteria, which the unions labeled “ridiculous.” Meanwhile, they also raised the minimum wage, and Hungary faces very high inflation (officially 7-8%, but in the case of shopping this may well be around 15%, not to mention housing prices).
The demands of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers and the Teachers’ Union:
- Settlement of the payment conditions of teachers and non-teaching staff.
- Reduction of the workload.
- Change in the regulation on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination so as to be able to take back teachers whose replacement is impossible in the current situation.
These were the conditions of the move of Hungary’s two biggest teachers’ unions, the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) and the Teachers’ Union (PSZ) to organize a warning strike by January 31. The protest, held between 8 and 10 am, eventually attracted more than 27,000 participants (not only trade union members) across Hungary, besides a solidarity demo in Budapest organized by the Hungarian Confederation of Trade Unions (MASZSZ).
Fidesz made strike’s legal conditions very difficult to meet
As a matter of fact, Fidesz has made strikes difficult to legally organize. Employees of providers of basic services are not allowed to go on strike unless parties agree on the minimum of services to be provided during the demonstration. In lack of such an agreement, a binding court decision will stipulate the level of services to be ensured.
In addition, the government wanted to set some tough conditions for this very issue: teachers should have held 75% of their classes during the two-hour long strike, which would be equivalent to at least one of their classes, something that would have certainly questioned the legitimacy of the action. Meanwhile, they wouldn’t have been paid at all, since those on strike wouldn’t receive their wages, according to the law. Needless to say, such conditions were unacceptable for the protestors.
Consequently, the government has been arguing up until the very day of the strike that it was unlawful due to the lack of a binding court decision as such.
In fact, 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.
In another controversy, the ruling parties tried to downplay the demonstration and divide the protestors by accusing them and the trade unions of being influenced by the left-wing opposition, at some instance even naming DK leader, former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány himself.
Second instance rules in favor of the government
Firstly, the appeals court, acting on a complaint by the Human Resources Ministry, overturned this primary decision and ruled that the strike was illegal.
However, somewhat interestingly, the strike wasn’t ruled unlawful, because of the unions’ demands, but because it had been held in lack of a binding ruling.
Ministry: Teachers’ strike ‘clearly unlawful’
“The government is always ready to negotiate but everybody must abide by the law,” the human resources ministry said in a statement on Friday, after an appeals court deemed a recent warning strike staged by teachers’ unions unlawful.
“Children and parents are of paramount importance for the government,” the ministry wrote in their statement, adding that “education must serve the interests of children.”
The statement said the government was currently taking measures to increase the wages of healthcare and welfare services staff, while “the dispute (with teachers) is about the timing of further pay hikes” for them.
General strike may come
In regard to the legal battle, the relevant teachers’ trade unions announced they would appeal to the supreme court (Kúria).
In addition, they insist on their position to organize an indefinite, general strike starting March 16, if the government still refuses to substantially address the “crisis.”
Featured image illustration via György György/MTI