On Friday, the government issued a decree in their official gazette, Magyar Közlöny, about how childcare has to be organized and what hours have to be held, under the heading of emergency legislation due to the pandemic. Although regulations already existed, the new decree has made it even more difficult for teachers to strike.
The law 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 Orbán 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.
Teachers’ Union: Gov’t decree “abuse of law”
What the government has done is not only against the law but also against democracy,” Gábor Gosztonyi, vice-president of the Teachers’ Trade Union (PSZ), told Népszava about the decree. According to Gosztonyi, this is an abuse of the law, a gross violation of the Strike Act, and a violation of the Constitution (which establishes the right to strike as a fundamental constitutional right), and the EU legal order.
The government, in a dictatorial move, has effectively banned the strike by decree, invoking its emergency powers,”
the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) said in a statement.
Erzsébet Nagy, a member of the national executive committee of PDSZ, said that they are not afraid to take the case to an international court.
She said it was unacceptable that the deputy state secretary for public education, László Kisfaludy, no longer even wanted to negotiate on the issue of sufficient services, saying it was laid down in the decree. Nagy said that only the court had the right to decide on this.
The latest strike and its unlawfulness
The latest strike took place because last year’s negotiations failed with the government. The Orbán administration promised a significant 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” since it is barely higher than the yearly official inflation rate, and the sector hadn’t seen wage increases for years.
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.
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, in this case, for example, 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 mass strike and “to act within the law.”
The latest strike was organized on 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.”
Featured image via Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI