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Opposition voices solidarity with striking teachers

Most teachers stay away from strike, ministry says

Less than 20 percent of the country's teachers participated in a warning strike called by trade unions for Monday morning, the human resources ministry told MTI. The two-hour strike was held to call for higher wages and reduced workload.

The ministry called it “regrettable” that the trade unions had gone ahead with their strike plans despite the “absence of legal conditions”. It argued that the strike action had been based on a non-binding court ruling rather than a ruling that was already in force.

The ministry on Saturday told unions that the strike would be illegal as the Jan. 28 court ruling on the matter was not final. It is only lawful to hold a strike in Hungary in possession of a final court ruling on the matter.

Representatives of the teachers’ unions PDSZ and PSZ told a joint press conference on Monday that preliminary data showed participation by over 20,000 teachers in the strike which they called “a feast of democracy in Hungarian education”. “We can be proud of our teachers who set an example”, they said, adding that “no matter how immense the pressure by the government was to thwart this strike it still went ahead”.

Zsuzsa Szabo, the chair of PSZ, said that those who participated in the strike called attention to the serious problem of many teachers leaving their profession. “If this trend continues there will soon be nobody in schools to teach our children who then will have no future, as much as this society will have no future either,” she said.

Erzsebet Nagy, an official of PDSZ, said the government had “exerted unprecedented pressure on teachers and parents as well” during the strike. “There were schools where whole delegations of education supervisors appeared to threaten those participating in the strike and attempted to persuade teachers to return to their classes”, she said. Commenting on the human resources ministry’s calling the strike illegal, Nagy said the government had not submitted any appeal against the non-binding ruling until 10am, the end of today’s strike. “This strike went to show not only the original reasons but the way the right to strike and democracy stand today in Hungary”, said Nagy.

PDSZ and PSZ called the strike in October. The unions’ want the benchmark for calculating teachers’ salaries to be the current minimum wage. At present, salaries are linked to the minimum wage in 2014. They are also calling for an increase in the salaries of people working in education who aren’t teachers. They also want the number of hours of classroom instruction to be capped at 22 a week, and they want teaching assistants’ hours reduced from a weekly 40 to 35.

Szabo said that the unions planned a general strike for March 16 if no agreement is reached on their demands with the government.

Early in the afternoon, a convoy of some 200 vehicles held a demonstration in downtown Budapest, in support of the strike. The demonstration organised by the trade union umbrella organisation SZEF started from Heroes’ Square and crossed over to the Buda side of the city before returning to the starting point.

The demonstration had no police escort, despite the organisers’ request.

In a statement ahead of the demonstration, SZEF told MTI that the demonstration was organised to express solidarity with the teachers, and also to raise awareness of “failing wage negotiations” in other sectors too.

Ruling Fidesz said in a statement that the strike was “a campaign event organised by the leftist parties”. “Leftist parties, which stripped teachers of a month’s pay and closed hundreds of schools, fired thousands of teachers and had them work for humiliatingly low wages [when they were on power before 2010], are now exploiting teachers and riling them up,” the statement said.

Opposition voices solidarity with striking teachers

Hungary’s opposition parties have voiced solidarity with teachers who participated in a two-hour warning strike on Monday.

At an online press conference, representatives of the opposition Jobbik, Parbeszed, Momentum, Democratic Coalition, LMP and Socialist parties called for pay hikes for teachers and reducing the burden on them. They promised the establishment of a separate education ministry and the closure of the school operator Klebelsberg Centre if the opposition won the April 3 general election.

Jobbik’s Tamas Csanyi said the most important task of a new government would be raising teachers’ wages, which he said could help boost the profession’s prestige. Teachers and education workers will receive a 50 percent pay hike over the next parliamentary cycle, he said.

Gabor Eross of Parbeszed said the new government would shut down the Klebelsberg Centre and scrap the school district system after April. Local communities will be handed back control of schools and students will be ensured equal opportunities, he said.

Momentum board member Endre Toth talked about the importance of restoring teachers’ professional independence. Instead of being made to follow a national curriculum, schools should be offered model curriculums, he said.

Democratic Coalition group leader Gergely Arato called on the government to “stop threatening” the teachers speaking out against the state of the education sector and to “stop treating those who stand up for their professions as enemies”. He said the opposition wanted to set up an education ministry that would work in the interests of children and the country, “instead of representing a foolish government’s policies that are ruining education”.

LMP deputy group leader Krisztina Hohn said the new government would reduce the burdens on both teachers and students. It was also important, she said, to address violence in schools with the involvement of social workers and psychologists rather than the current school guard system.

Istvan Hiller of the Socialists said that if the government had kept its promises to teachers, “there would be fewer problems” in the education sector today. He said the reason why the government had not kept its promises was that it did not want to spend the money that was necessary to correct the mistakes it had made earlier on. He said the public education law passed ten years ago had proven to be a failure and had harmed students, teachers and the country as a whole.

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