Hungary’s two largest teachers’ unions, the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) and the Teachers’ Union (PSZ), held a two-hour warning strike on Monday morning. Many teachers in Budapest and in several cities around the country joined the demonstration demanding a wage hike and less of a workload from the government. The unions say more than 20,000 teachers joined the strike.
More than 20,000 teachers joined the two-hour warning strike that was announced for Monday morning, according to preliminary figures announced later that day by organizer teachers’ unions PDSZ, and PSZ. This figure is subject to change, as only partial results were available three hours after the strike ended, the two organization noted however.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of, we can be proud of the teachers because they have shown our children how to stand up for a common cause,” said Zsuzsa Szabó, president of the PSZ, discussing the results.
The unions had earlier hoped the number of participants would reach nearly 50,000, but according to PSZ and PDSZ, there are two reasons why only about 20,000 public education staff decided to join the demonstration: the intimidation from the government led many to change their minds, while many teachers also had to stay home with coronavirus infection and were unable to protest in person.
Demonstrations all over Hungary
Teachers held the warning strike between 8 and 10 am in schools and kindergartens that decided to participate in the demonstration across Hungary. During the two-hour warning strike schools provided childcare but classes were not held. According to press reports in several institutions, half or even two-thirds of the teaching staff joined the strike.
Among others, many teachers from schools in Budapest, Győr, Szombathely, Szeged, Pécs, Kaposvár, and Debrecen took part in the demo.
Ministry: Most teachers stayed away from the strike
Despite the demonstrations held across Hungary, according to the human resources ministry, the strike was far from successful.
Less than 20 percent of the country’s teachers participated in a strike called by trade unions for Monday, the human resources ministry told state news agency MTI.
The ministry called it “regrettable” that the trade unions had gone ahead with their strike plans despite the “absence of legal conditions”. The ministry argued that the strike action had been based on a non-binding court decision rather than a ruling that was already in effect.
Legal dispute over the strike
Monday’s demonstration was jointly organized by Hungary’s two largest teachers’ unions: the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ), and Teacher’s Union (PSZ), after weeks of failed negotiations with the government over their demands. The teachers wanted a pay raise, a reduction in their workload, and to ensure no educators are sent on unpaid leave if they decide not to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
As expected, the planned action provoked a serious dispute between the trade unions and the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI), the branch that oversees public education. At the heart of this conflict was the question of what exactly constitutes ’minimum service’ during a strike. The ministry wanted teachers to at least partially teach even during their protest, arguing that otherwise the strike would violate students’ rights to education. The unions did not accept EMMI’s position.
Subsequently, on Friday, a court ruling of first instance gave the green light for the teachers’ strike, but the ministry told unions that the planned action would still be illegal as the Jan. 28 court decision was not binding.
It is only lawful to hold a strike in Hungary in possession of a final court ruling on the matter, the ministry noted in a statement.
The government called the unions to postpone Monday’s mass strike and to act within the law.
“That is why we have asked the unions not to create chaos, not to encourage teachers to break the law, and to postpone the strike and wait for the final decision of the court,” EMMI said.
The ministry also urged parents to take their children to school on Monday, but added in a somewhat threatening tone that missing the first two lessons would be counted as a full absence.
Demo faces several other obstacles
In addition, to the legal dispute, the unions claimed that in several places the school principals themselves were trying to prevent the strike from being organized.
Erzsébet Nagy, a member of the PDSZ executive committee, told RTL News on Sunday that after EMMI’s statement “many people became hesitant and said that under these circumstances they are not sure whether they’d dare to go on strike.” RTL also contacted the ministry, which replied that ” We have not made any threats,” however, adding that “organizing an illegal strike cannot happen without consequences.”
In response, Erzsébet Nagy told news site 444 that they will stick to their planned protest regardless because “it is quite certain that you cannot fire someone for participating in a two-hour warning strike, and it would not be proportionate even if anyone later found it to be illegal.”
The warning strike by Hungary’s teachers has been supported by a number of other unions in the past weeks, most recently the Hungarian Medical Chamber and the Hungarian Chamber of Healthcare Professionals. Opposition politicians also welcomed Monday’s teachers’ strike.
The opposition’s joint candidate for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony, and MEP of Democratic Coalition, Klára Dobrev,all assured Hungary’s educators of their support in their social media posts.
Featured photo via official Facebook page of PDSZ