Hungarian Teachers' Unions demand resignation of minister in charge of public education

December 19. 2022. – 02:02 PM

Hungarian Teachers' Unions demand resignation of minister in charge of public education
Photo: Tanárok a tanárokért / Facebook


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After months of street protests, student sit-ins, civil disobedience by teachers, and human chains organized by parents to protest the conditions in Hungarian public education, Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér’s office finally held an in-person meeting with those most affected on 16 December in Budapest.

Around 400 teachers and school principals from around the country were invited, and even representatives of the teachers’ unions could attend – although the latter were not allowed to take the floor. Other teachers were allowed to speak (for up to 3 minutes), and could even ask questions at the end.

Although Sándor Pintér himself gave a speech, it seems he didn’t manage to convince enough of those present, as over the weekend, one of the unions issued the following statement:

"The Extraordinary Congress of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers, (PDSZ) in its resolution of 17 December, calls on you to resign your position due to your total unfamiliarity and incompetence in the field of public education."

- reads the organisation's statement addressed to Sándor Pintér, the Minister responsible for public education.

So what did Pintér say in his speech?

Emese Ledvai, a teacher from Szigetszentmiklós, who was present at the meeting described it as a speech at the end of which

“Pintér humiliated and ridiculed everyone by going over the problems and denying each of them one by one”.

In her opinion, Friday’s meeting cannot be called a consultation, especially because not everyone who would have wanted to do so was allowed to speak.

Erzsébet Nagy, member of PDSZ’ national executive committee agreed with Lendvai and said that “this was by no means a professional consultation, as there was no genuine conversation. It was basically a day of complaining, where some of the speakers endeavored to justify the existence of the current system”.

Telex managed to acquire a recording of Pintér’s entire speech in which he mentioned that he works a lot just like the teachers, but he never “sneaks about”. He said that a ministry for education does, in fact, exist, except it’s called a State Secretariat, and he complained about the students using his name to cuss during the protests.

The Minister of Interior started by saying that he “does have some idea about education”. He defined himself as someone who has had little to do with education until now, and is not particularly proficient in it, but who considers teaching to be the most noble career.

His mother-in-law, wife and son-in-law are all teachers, and his six grandchildren are in school, so he thinks he has some idea about what is going on.

He added that leading is what he is good at, and that as a leader, he intends to optimize the school system. Based on this, what he can create in Hungarian public education is: “order, structure, and thinking in a system.”

He then presented a lot of EU data with charts, all of which showed that Hungary is doing badly in education on most indicators. For example, of the 27 Member States (probably 28 at the time of the survey – ed.), Hungary has one of the worst rates of school dropouts. It ranks 23rd, which means that many children drop out of the education system prematurely.

He also pointed out that a high proportion of students from some good schools have been continuing their studies abroad, which can, in his opinion, be stopped by raising them in the spirit of patriotism. He is not satisfied with the current statistics on education, as his goal is for Hungary to finish in one of the top three places. Pintér believes that it is the attitude of teachers that can improve the students' performance, as that will help them to achieve better results.

He said that the most important issue is undoubtedly the pay teachers receive, and he fully agrees that teachers' salaries are not adequate.

Pintér promised that a decree would be issued the same day, which would include the 10 percent pay raise promised for next year.

The decree was indeed published in the Hungarian Gazette late Friday. But instead of the government decreeing an increase of the teachers’ actual wage, the text provides for an increase in the professional wage supplement from 20 to 32 percent.

This means that the government has decided not to increase the salaries themselves, but to increase the sectoral professional supplement, which will amount to an overall increase of 10 percent. The Teachers’ Unions have pointed out that this means that the basic income of Hungarian teachers is still calculated based on the 2014 minimum wage.

Sándor Pintér did not want to promise anything else, saying that they will be able to talk about specifics once the EU funds are in the country's account.

The other big issue, according to the Minister of Interior, are the teachers' working hours, because many feel overworked and do not have time to prepare for lessons. To this, he ironically commented that he himself also works at least 22 hours on weekends.

He brought up the data from a questionnaire which teachers had filled out, which shows that out of 177, 000 teachers 104,000 have a second job to make ends meet. His comment? "That also takes away from the preparation time".

Another important question in the survey conducted among educators was whether there should be a separate Ministry of Education. According to Pintér, Hungary does have one, it just happens to be called a Secretariat of Education, and "Mr Maruzsa is running it".

He then addressed another major issue for the country’s teachers: the right to strike. Teachers claim that as the modified strike law prescribes certain sufficient services, it makes their walkout invisible. In response to this, Pintér said that teachers in 35 US states do not even have the right to strike, and neither do their German colleagues. In Hungary, however, the Constitutional Court has ruled that teachers have the right to strike.

According to the minister, the Ministry of Interior is responsible for maintaining order, so those who break the law need to be sanctioned. Pintér said that he also had to take an oath, and in that oath, he promised that he would uphold the Fundamental Law and enforce it on others. He then asked again:

"What should I do? Should I break my oath by looking the other way?"

A teacher asked him in writing why their 13 colleagues had been fired, to which he replied:

"I had no other option".

He said that those affected were free to go to court and the court would decide who was right. When the outcry in the room was sufficiently high, Pintér started showing pictures of protesting students on the projector, who he said were not behaving in a civilized manner, and added:

“These are your students.”

In his opinion, IT education is very important and should be given more emphasis. When asked who will teach it and on what equipment, he said, "Use your creativity!" He said that if something is needed, it should simply be figured out. The question of how is another matter.

He then answered some of the questions that had been collected among the participants, and although according to him many people had attacked him for wanting to get away from the same, he insisted:

“I have never evaded anything in my life.”

What do the unions say?

The Teachers’ Democratic Union (PDSZ) isn’t only demanding Pintér’s resignation, they continue to ask for a separate Education Ministry, as well as that the head of that institution be “a professional who is competent in matters of education”. They write: “You admitted yourself that you are not an expert in education – in our opinion, you also are not an expert in managing education. This is evidenced by what you said at the event you -falsely – called a consultation”.

PDSZ is concerned about the plans to introduce "a new salary system in public education, the expectations from the Interior Ministry, as well as the plans for dealing with problems in a policing system". They say the 10 per cent pay rise is "far below" strike demands and it doesn't even follow inflation.

"The wage increase is being done through increasing the supplements instead of the basic wage, maintaining a situation for workers in the sector where the fixed pay, the basic income, is still the minimum wage calculated based on the 2014 minimum wage. This is why it can happen that the basic salary of a teacher who has been an educator for 26 years will have to be increased to the mandatory guaranteed minimum wage. In the new payment system, the bonuses could disappear without trace," they concluded.

"A man whose expectations have no substance whatsoever, who only issues directives about control, setting tasks, monitoring, and educational supervision, and who is apparently ignorant of and uninterested in pedagogical terms should not be put in charge of public education. Anyone who thinks that the shortage of expert teachers can be remedied by a significant increase in the number of teachers has no idea how a public education institution works or what a teacher's job is. Your terminology, offensive tone and style are far removed from our profession," they wrote.

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