Teachers trade union initiates takes with government in effort to avoid strike

December 8, 2015

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“We teachers are also responsible for allowing this situation to develop.  We allowed them to trick us into believing how good this was going to be for us.  Not only us but society and the teachers as well.  I think everyone has opened their eyes and seen how big the trouble it.  The trouble is big, and within a short period of time will be even bigger, because a number of teachers will soon retire, and within five to eight years there will be a serious shortage of teachers, which will make matters worse than they already are.”  – László Mendrey, President, Teachers Democratic Trade Union (PDSZ)

The untenable situation with regard to public education has prompted the Teachers Trade Union (PSZ) to open discussions with the government.   The trade union does not rule out street demonstrations or even a general strike of an agreement cannot be reached.   On the basis of feedback to date, the majority of tachers are not satisfied with steps announced to date, and many are demanding that the trade union take a harder position.

PSZ president Mrs. István Galló says a strike could engulf the entire public sector, but that first it was necessary to hold negotiations and to ensure that society supported the teachers.  Although he thinks it would be better for the two organizations to act together, Teachers Democratic Trade Union president, László Mendrey supports Galló’s efforts.  At the same time, he does not see any change of calling a strike .

The Teachers Trade Union (PSZ) voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to immediately open discussions with the government according to a statement issued to the Hungarian telegraph service (MTI).  PSZ believes that state management in its present form does not ensure the smooth operation of schools, and that the new system for employing teachers lacks transparency.

Those participating in the congress authorized PSZ president Mrs. István Galló to negotiate with representatives of the government and to organize street demonstrations the first quarter of 2016 if such meetings are unsuccessful or fail to take place.   Furthermore, they authorized the union to take the necessary steps to organize a lawful strike affecting every school should it be warranted.

The decision was also made to write yet another letter to the prime minister.  On November 23rd the trade union already sent a letter to Viktor Orbán in order to inform him about the untenable situation with regard to public education.  Recently the trade union received an answer from undersecretary for public education Mrs. Judit Bertalan Czunyi, which the congress rejected.

Czunyi reportedly acknowledged that the Klebelsberg Institutional Maintenance Center (KLIK) was underfinanced, but that the situation would improve after a structural reorganization planned for the future.  The undersecretary reportedly wrote nothing of substance with regard to late or unpaid wages, self-evaluations, or the system of promotion, although she mentioned minor changes (self-evaluations only to take place every five years, for example).

In response to the letter, Galló urged that a series of discussions take place between the trade union and the government, telling Lánchíd Radio on Monday that the letter “had not answered the questions raised.”

In response to dissatisfaction voiced by teachers at the trade union’s accomplishments to date, the PSZ president told the Beacon a public sector trade union can only achieve results if it enjoys the support of society.  Society, on the other hand, is exceptionally divided, given that part of the public believe the teachers have no right to complain since they were given raises, while the other part understand that the teachers’ problems are their problems as well, because the kind of school their children attend is important.   Galló pointed out that the effect of bad decisions taken in education only felt years later, not like in public health, for example.

She said many of the opinions posted by teachers to social media revealed a lack of understanding of how the trade union works.  The solution cannot be “to show Vktor Orbán the door” as certain teachers have suggested.  Whether we like it or not, first we have to discuss matters, she said, adding that they would know by January whether the government was receptive to their demands.

If the trade union calls a strike, then the government should know that this could become a self-propelling process, and that health care worker and social workers might join in the strike.   The government should remember that some 640,000 people work in the public sector when considering the teachers’ demands, said Galló.  She is certain that the undersecretariat knows that there are serious problems.

László Mendrey, president of the Teachers Democratic Trade Union (PDSZ) told the Beacon that “we have to discuss matters, that is indisputable, but for that we need a willing partner” adding that “there is no time for negotiations merely for the sake of appearances.”  According to recent OECD figures, even after receiving wage increases Hungarian teachers remain among the lowest paid.   The trade union considers the situation of public education in Hungary to be exceptionally serious.  “We are among the laggards” said Mendrey, adding that the situation had deteriorated to the point that is difficult to arrest and even more difficult to turn back.  “We have fallen behind even for a Hungary that is little more than an assembly plant” said Mendrey.

Mendrey says that the trade unions ability to call a strike has been undermined by the fact that KLIK refuses to define what constitutes “adequate service” in the case of a strike.

“We teachers are also responsible for allowing this situation to develop.  We allowed them to trick us into believing how good this was going to be for us.  Not only us but society and the teachers as well.  I think everyone has opened their eyes and seen how big the trouble it.  The trouble is big, and within a short period of time will be even bigger, because a number of teachers will soon retire, and within five to eight years there will be a serious shortage of teachers, which will make matters worse than they already are.”

A starting Hungarian teach makes a gross annual salary of USD 10,000, or around HUF 3 million.  Only in Slovakia are teachers paid so poorly.  Even in Columbia starting teachers take home around USD 5,000 more per year.   In the Czech Republic starting teachers are paid USD 17,000.  In Slovenia they are paid USD 26,000, and in Luxembourg USD 81,000.  Ranked third lowest paid, considering how overworked Hungarian teachers are, it is safe to say that among the OECD countries, Hungary is the worst place to be a teacher in terms of hourly wage.