Since the government “has failed to effectively address public education’s neglected conditions,” teachers will go on a general strike in March, two of the major teacher’s unions announced.
Back in mid-December, the Teacher’s Union (PSZ) and Democratic Union of Hungarian Teachers (PDSZ) announced a warning strike at the end of January indicating that in the event that the demo would not prove fruitful, they would organize another, broader one in March.
However, negotiations failed after the government only promised a 10% hike (in the form of a wage supplement which can be taken away at any time), which the unions rejected, labeling the offer “ridiculous.” The warning strike will start on January 31, and a general, indefinite suspension of work will be launched on March 16.
According to their main demands, teachers want their salaries to be once again linked to the minimum wage. According to a 2015 modification, the 2014 level of the minimum wage was made the salary’s projection base (the minimum wage was HUF 101,500 (EUR 284) at the time). This resulted in teacher’s wages not following the increase of the minimum wage in the past seven years. So while the minimum wage has doubled since then, teachers’ salaries stuck, resulting in a young teacher today earning just as much (or even less) than a 17-year old who has just finished vocational school.
In addition to their wage demands, teachers also want less working hours and more downtime.
The Hungarian Confederation of Trade Unions (MASZSZ) will also hold a demonstration on January 31 to express solidarity with the teacher’s strike.
Teaching in public schools remains perhaps the most underpaid profession in Hungary. Even with the recent hike of wage supplements, the monthly salary of a starting teacher comes to around HUF 312,000 (EUR 877) gross. Meanwhile, Hungary is facing a large hike in inflation too (while officially it was 7.4%, in December, based on shopping trends it can well surpass 10% or even 15%).
Not independent from the low salaries, teaching has long been facing a staffing shortage. The latest statistics of the Ministry of Human Capacities, for example, show that while in 2018, six thousand new teachers started their profession, this number has dropped to two thousand by 2020/2021.
The government, namely Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler, earlier labeled the unions’ bids “a campaign action of the left and of former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány,” which the unions rejected, saying that it was rather the government that had turned the wage dispute into a political party issue. According to the teacher’s unions, the Orbán-led government “starts to mention Gyurcsány when it cannot provide a meaningful and credible response to the shortage of teachers and the low and humiliating wages.”
featured image illustration via Noémi Bruzák/MTI