Teachers strike committee fails to agree on direction of future reforms with ministry

February 12, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 3.02.50 AM

Today’s meeting between the Teachers Strike Committee and government officials failed to yield an agreement, in part because Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog was unable to attend.

At a press conference held after the three-hour meeting, Teachers Trade Union (PSZ) president Mrs. István Galló (pictured left) said the meeting was “only a consultation and did not result in agreement.”  She said that while the parties agreed on the need to discuss further the 25 points raised by the strike committee, there are fundamental differences in point of view as to direction.  She said similar promises were made as at Tuesday’s education roundtable, but that strike committee negotiations were of a different nature.  She regreted that Minister Balog did not attend.

Parliamentary undersecretary Bence Rétvári (pictured right) announced after the meeting that the government once again invited the parties to attend the public education roundtable and that the government was open to negotiations.

Education Leaders Trade Union president Gabriella Hajnal who also participated in today’s “consultation” confirmed that a concrete agreement was not forthcoming, but that the ministry promised to give them something in writing sometime next week.

Hungarian Public Education and Technical Training Trade Union president József Tóth said they expected rapid progress to be made in questions of “occupation” without offering any details.

Rétvári said there was a point to further discussions and negotiations.  He said Balog was unable to attend because he was in Lillafüred attending the Fidesz parliamentary fraction’s three-day meeting.  The undersecretary said the ministry had explained to the trade unions’ representatives what deadlines and themes the government was in a position to undertake, and that copies of all the documents created at Tuesday’s roundtable were delivered to them, including the agenda, what the government has agreed to do, and the deadlines for doing so.

Rétvári said half of the 25 points were among the things the government announced at the roundtable it was prepared to implement by September, and among them are questions affecting the institutions themselves.  He said another quarter of the issues could be addressed in January 2017 and the rest over the course of 2017 as part of a package of reforms.

Rétvári said that over the course of the school consultations (held on the same day teachers’ protests took place in 12 cities across Hungary), the government had received 4538 recommendations, and the 25 points raised by the trade unions were all suggestions that the government considered important and worthy of consideration.   However, he made it clear that the government continued to insist on state maintenance of public educational institutions.

Rétvári claimed it was necessary for the government to “radically intervene in the system of public education after 2010” and nobody disputes that the changes which took place were “far from perfect.”

Some of the positive changes he mentioned were wage increases for teachers (but neglected to mention that teachers are required to teach 50 percent more lessons a week and to spend the entire day at school).  He also cited the fact that textbooks were now free (without mentioning their poor quality and the fact that they frequently arrived weeks or even months late, if at all).  He mentioned the expansion of the children’s feeding program (without mentioning that thousands of local governments were either unable or unwilling to participate in summer feeding programs).  He also mentioned that far more students were interested in becoming teachers than five years ago (without mentioning that this was largely due to the introduction of university tuition costs in the case of other faculties, such as law or medicine).

Rétvári said he was confident that the time would come when the trade unions would attend the roundtable discussions.  “That is where things are happening.”