Teachers' Unions turn to European Court of Human Rights about their right to strike

September 14. 2022. – 01:26 PM

With help from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), the Hungarian Teachers' Union (PSZ) and the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the government's denial of their right to strike, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said in a statement.

"The government issued a decree which has introduced some compulsory rules which, in essence, ensure that not even the students would notice if their teachers went on strike to demand better working conditions. It was the government that forced the educators into their current civil disobedience movement." they write.

It was on 11 February 2022 that, quoting the pandemic as a reason, the government issued a regulation on the minimum mandatory requirements during a strike in an educational institution, which states that schools and kindergartens must provide childcare and hold certain lessons even if the teachers go on strike.

According to the teachers, their right to strike was unnecessarily and disproportionately restricted by the imposition of teaching during a strike, as under such circumstances a potential strike would at most cause only minimal disruption to the employer's operations, and the right to strike could not fulfill its function of exerting pressure and resistance.

"Striking is a fundamental right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The state cannot empty the legal institution of the right to strike, it cannot arbitrarily take away one of our fundamental rights," the statement says.

PSZ and PDSZ appealed to the Hungarian Constitutional Court, but their case was dismissed on formal grounds. So now, with the help of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, they have lodged their appeal at the Strasbourg Court.

The unions first called a national strike on 31 January, with more than 20,000 teachers taking part in the two-hour protest. The strike was called by the two major teachers' unions because their negotiations with the government failed to deliver results. They had three demands: a pay raise, a reduction in the workload and that workers who do not want to get vaccinated against Covid not be sent on unpaid leave.

The court approved the strike in the first instance, but the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) repeatedly told the teachers that holding a strike is illegal as there is no final court ruling. The ministry also said the strike was the political action of the left. In the end, the Metropolitan Court of Appeals ruled that the teachers' strike was illegal. On 16 March, the teachers called another indefinite strike.

At the beginning of the school year in September, the unions announced further acts of civil disobedience and even students organized a demonstration to support their teachers. The teachers involved in the civil disobedience actions have received a letter from the school districts stating that their unauthorized absence is grounds for extraordinary dismissal.

Telex recently spoke with a teacher who decided to leave her calling after 13 years of teaching in a public school. To find out more about the background to the situation of education in Hungary, read her story here.

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