After their latest strike did not make a difference, and after the government made striking more and more difficult for them, teachers have now practiced civil disobedience in several high schools in Budapest as well as other cities in the country.
Most recently, as we have also reported, teachers from several high schools in Budapest were holding a strike against the government’s new mandate which makes it difficult for teachers to go on strike in the future. Then, Viktor Tóth, a teacher at the Saint László High School in Kőbánya, said that
This is civil disobedience, it has nothing to do with the trade unions.”
After the Saint László High School, 20 teachers at the Kölcsey Ferenc High School in Budapest also protested against the government’s decree. Katalin Törley, a teacher at the school, said that their action is not against the students, the principal, or even the school district, but only against the government mandate. Törley said the most likely scenario is that they will have their wages deducted, but many fear losing their jobs because of the strike.
The example of the two high schools was followed by other institutions: sixty teachers did not take up their posts on Friday at the Eötvös József High School in Budapest. In their statement, they stressed that “we are fighting for change that focuses on the children in our care.”
Teachers did the same at the Vörösmarty Mihály High School in Budapest, the Sashegyi Arany János High School and Elementary School, the Berzsenyi Dániel High School, the Scheiber Sándor High School, and Elementary School, and the Földes Ferenc High School in Miskolc.
22 teachers of the Sashegyi Arany János High School and Primary School are not working on Friday, Bence Gaál, a teacher at the school, said. Gaál said that some of the school’s teachers were not supportive, and had called the civil disobedience participants communists. However, according to Gaál, there are more people for them than against them: 14 teachers expressed solidarity with those who are not working on Friday.
The civil disobedience at the Berzsenyi Dániel High School started at 8 am with the participation of 27 teachers. A further 16 teachers signed in support, as they were unable to be present in person. A teacher said:
Teachers have been saying for a long time that the education system is not good, and when they say this, they are not only speaking on their own behalf but also on behalf of children and parents. What we have now is bad for everyone involved in education.”
21 teachers at the Vörösmarty Mihály Gimnázium started their protest as well.
Here is all that needs to be done before teachers can strike legally:
The new decree orders supervision of children between 7 am and 4 pm for schools, 5 pm for primary schools, and 6 pm for nurseries on all working days affected by the strike. It also stipulates that each child or pupil may only be in the same room with peers with whom they were in the same group or class before the strike – meaning that they cannot be temporarily grouped together. The reason given by the government is “to protect against the spread of the epidemic.”
They also require that each group and class must have at least one qualified teacher, college educator, tutor, or (remedial) teaching assistant. The children must be provided with the usual meals, boarding, and one hour of open-air in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. In addition, the regulation stipulates that all exam preparation lessons in the compulsory graduation certificate subjects must be given to secondary school students preparing for graduation. Other students are required to attend half of the lessons in each subject. In addition, if teachers decide to go on strike, they do not get paid during that time.
This new decree joined the already strict rules regarding striking: It is only lawful to hold a strike in Hungary in possession of a final court ruling on the matter. Before a strike can get the green light, negotiations must be made on what is a “sufficient service” while striking, in this case, for example, it is about the children’s care while the teachers are on strike. This, of course, takes time, and therefore, the government called the unions to postpone the latest mass strike and “to act within the law.”
A strike was organized for January 31, by this time, however, no final decision was made about the strike being illegal and the unions did not postpone the event. After the 2-hour strike, the appeals court, acting on a complaint by the Human Resources Ministry, overturned the primary decision and ruled that the strike was illegal. Therefore, in the end, it wasn’t ruled unlawful because of the unions’ demands, but because it had been held in lack of a binding court ruling.
The new decree also refers to the review procedure to be submitted to the Kúria (the supreme court of Hungary) in the case of a strike declared unlawful, stating that in the case of such a request, “until the decision in the review procedure, no reference may be made to the court decision in individual cases concerning the illegality or unlawfulness of the strike, and the legal time limits relating to the court decision on the illegality or unlawfulness of the strike shall start to run on the day following the notification of the decision in the review procedure.”
Katalin Sáfrán, a teacher at a foundation school, has joined the disobedience individually and was not on duty between 9 and 11 am, she wrote:
Our social perception is pathetic, we are beginning to see ourselves as losers because we put up with everything and carry on doing our jobs.”
“What I gain is that I look in the mirror a little easier in the morning. The fact that I’m being bullied a bit now is fine with me, I hope I don’t get fired. But in order to be able to stand tall a little bit every day when they do this to me, I have to do something, and apart from civil disobedience, I have no other option,” said Attila Molnár, an IT teacher at the Szent László High School in Kőbánya.
Molnár is not the only one who thinks there are no other options left for teachers. “I don’t feel that there are many other options because the legitimate things that have happened so far have come to nothing. For me, that desperation drove my decision,” said English teacher Boglárka Varga.
Others are not even afraid of being fired:
I’m not so scared of losing my job, because I can go to any Lidl or Aldi and earn three times as much, but I can also earn twice as much at any language school. It was never money that motivated me to be here,”
said László Hajba, another English teacher. “I didn’t become a teacher because there were teachers in the family or because of how good the three-month summer break is, which is not even a break for us, but really because of the children. It’s not easy for them either, they’re not in an ideal education system.”
Edit Simkó, a primary school teacher, used civil disobedience alone in her school. “I felt like a responsible adult citizen! It was liberating! I was given a breather. Everything was natural and self-evident. It lifted my self-esteem, I stood with my head held high,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
The demands of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) and the Teachers’ Union (PSZ) are the following:
- Settlement of the payment conditions for 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.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) called the leaders of the teachers’ unions to discuss the issue of sufficient service during strikes. Zsuzsa Szabó, President of the Teachers’ Union (PSZ), said after the meeting that “the cynicism they encountered is astonishing,” adding that they had to learn at the meeting that the decree published last Friday “is itself a sufficient service.” She also said that they “have never had such a bad atmosphere in a negotiation.”
Szabó said that the strike announced for March 16 would go ahead. “The whole story is a violation of our constitutional right, which is reason enough to unite on 16 March, as everything is unchanged, with little progress,” said the PSZ president. The banners say the same at the entrance of the Saint László High School and also at the Teleki Blanka High School: “Striking is a fundamental right!”
Erzsébet Nagy, a member of the national executive committee of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ), said there was no progress on the pay raise and workload in the current negotiations. Among other things, they want to see a maximum of 22 hours for teachers. Union leaders left the ministry without a date for the next talks.
At Wednesday’s government briefing, Gergely Gulyás, who heads the Prime Minister’s Office, said the government understood the teachers’ problems and was happy to negotiate with them on the pay raise, but asked them to respect the law. The minister said civil disobedience, which teachers have already started in several schools, was not the right instrument.
Featured image: Teachers of the Teleki Blanka High School in District XIV of Budapest, standing in front of the banner saying “Strike is a fundamental right!” Photo via the school’s Facebook page