School teachers across Hungary started an indefinite strike on Wednesday, March 16, demanding better salaries, more staff, reduction in workload, and better working conditions. The strike was called by the Teachers Union (PSZ) and the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) after months-long failed negotiations with the state, as well as a legal battle. On Thursday, students from various schools in the Hungarian capital Budapest rallied at the Kosuth square in solidarity with the teachers’ strike.
The teachers’ union had already organized warning strikes in different schools across the country earlier, including a major strike on January 31 which saw more than 20,000 employees from the public education sector participate. Meanwhile, the conservative government in Hungary led by Viktor Orban has tried to restrict the strikes by issuing a special decree calling for mandatory teaching services in schools citing the COVID-19 crisis. This was challenged by the teachers’ unions in the constitutional court as an attack on their right to strike.
Teachers in Hungary receive one of the lowest salaries in the European Union (EU). The Hungarian government has not raised their wages since 2014. According to reports, the current monthly net wage of a young school teacher in the country is just around the minimum wage for skilled workers, which is HUF 173,000 (USD 507.06).
PSZ president Zhuza Szabo stated, “these days, workload in schools is more due to administrative tasks that are increasing in education, as well as an alarming shortage of teaching staff. The education system currently lacks 12,000 people.”
Masina has reported that the government is continuing its intimidation tactics against the protesting teachers. It has made a list of teachers who are on strike and threatened to cut their salaries for the days on strike.
On March 18, president of the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation (MASZSZ), Róbert Zlati, expressed his support to the teachers’ strike, stating that “in addition to the declarations of solidarity, all trade unions and as many people as possible must now personally show what it is like to stand together against injustice.”
“The situation of education, the preparedness and aptitude of teachers are all issues for all of us, and the fate of our children and grandchildren is decided at a very young age in the schools,” he said.
The opposition parties in Hungary have also expressed support and solidarity to the teachers strike. Meanwhile, the conservative Fidesz party-led government denounced the strike as politically motivated as the country is going for parliamentary elections on April 3, 2022.