Status Law – Revenge of Hungarian Education Policy

State Law
Robert Koehler: The Strike // Public domain

The “Status Law” is a bill by the Hungarian Ministry of Interior the purpose of which is to regulate the new career path of pedagogues. The educators are deeply unsatisfied with their current work conditions and have been on strike constantly for more than a year now without any success.

The “Status Law” is the response by the government to the demands, but in reality, it does not offer a solution. In fact, it only worsens circumstances. The new bill has been introduced into the Parliament on May 6, the biggest trade union of Hungarian pedagogues are turning to Brussels for help.

Situation of Educators in Hungary

The workers of the educational area in Hungary have been suffering from a lack of appreciation for decades now, both financially as professionally. For teaching positions, the system requires a master’s degree, which takes five to six years to achieve in university. The starting wage is about EUR 1050 monthly (before taxes), which even includes a “bonus” to reach the minimum wage defined by the government. For reference, it is 75% of the monthly gross average wage in Hungary, including jobs which do not demand a degree or any qualifications.

Moreover, even after more than 40 years of experience and further training, the wage is still only about EUR 1100 per month, there are not any real career advancing opportunities. Another issue is the work overload of educators: the law in effect assigns 22 to 26 lessons to a teacher, but in reality, due to substitutions, preparation and paperwork they work for more than 50 hours weekly.

Additionally, the average number of students per class starts at 32 persons, and these large groups make it even harder to teach. The reasons listed above led to the beginning of the longest strike wave in the history of Hungary in the spring of 2022, which continues even at the time of writing this article, in June 2023.

Key Events of The Strike Wave So Far

On January 31, 2022 took place the first walkout of the teachers, which was declared illegal by the Hungarian Department of Human Resources, and later by the court, referring to the absence of tuition: the participating teachers must teach during the strike. The charge caused a national movement  “Strike is a fundamental right” which in the end led to the revocation of the charge.

The rest of the academic year was followed by walkouts of hundreds of teachers and on-going dismissions. In general, students and parents advocate for the case of the teachers and participate in the continuous state-wide demonstrations. The eventual replacement of the currently active teacher generation also raises concerns: the majority of  the current pedagogue workforce retire in the next decade, while there are barely any applicants to teacher training at universities and only a small percentage of teachers-in-training will actually work in education. In November, as an answer to the strike wave and an act of power demonstration, the state discharged eight of the protesting teachers.

The communication of the government is shifting responsibility: it says that the pay raise is depending on the arriving of frozen funds from the European Union.

“The only thing that has delayed the wage increase so far is that Brussels is taking time and not paying the EU due funds to Hungary. When the EU funds that belong to our country arrive, an unprecedented salary increase for teachers will be realized.”
(Hungarian Ministry for Home Affairs)

In reality, the withheld EU funds are meant for a different purpose and should not be connected to the case of pedagogues.

In March 2023 the draft of the Status Law was presented, which contains various negative changes for the workers of the educational sphere. The news generated public dissatisfaction and 80,000 signatures were collected against the introduction of the draft bill. Numerous strikes were organized with thousands of participants. May 3 demonstration turned into one of the most violent one in years: the police officers used tear-gas and nightsticks on the protesting crowd, even on the underaged attendants and arrested five people.

What Is in The “Status Law”?

Termination of Public Servant Legal Status

According to the previous law on public education, teachers were public servants, but in the Status Law it will be changed to public education employment relationship. It is the most significant point of the new bill, because with the termination of the public servant legal status the teachers are losing legitimacy.

Possible Extensions of Daily and Weekly Working Hours

The general full daily working time may now exceed 8 hours per day, provided that the daily working time cannot exceed 12, while the weekly working time may not exceed 48 hours, and the agreement of the parties may not establish a full daily working time shorter than the general full daily working time. The number of classes for the teachers is between 22 and 26 per week, which will not lower in the future and in addition to this, there is also the maintenance of students’ clubs, organization of class trips, correction of papers, administration, etc. The workload of the teachers is the biggest problem beside their financial status.

School Year Can Be Extended Until July 15

Previously, the school year was defined from the first working day of September to the last working day before June 16 of the following year. The new law features and addition, for unforeseen and unavoidable reasons, if the delivery of subject requirements cannot be ensured during the school year, the minister responsible for public education (which is currently the Minister of Internal Affairs) shall extend the school year until July 15 at the latest.

According to the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ), the possibility of extending the school year is another means of preventing a noticeable strike. Several people criticized this point because they do not consider it acceptable that time can be taken even from the summer vacation. The “unforeseeable and unavoidable reason” described in the law is difficult to interpret – but it could probably mean making up for hours missed due to a work stoppage, a way to punish striking teachers.

Pedagogues Can Be Transferred To Different Institution

“If the operation of a state-run public education institution cannot be ensured for any reason, then the operator of the public education institution may designate a different place for the students and teachers to carry out tasks.”

In practice, it means pedagogues can be obligated to teach in a different state-run institution as before for a maximum period of one year. This was not a possible scenario before and the “any reason” part most probably refers to the strikes and civil disobedience, and  this new rule might be intended to prevent them.

Curriculum Must Be Approved By The Maintainer

Trade unions and civil organizations protested against the Status Law, among other reasons, because it would limit institutional autonomy, as it would give more rights to the maintainer and less to the faculty and the director.

Cancellation of Minimum Number of Psychologist in Kindergartens

Until now, the mandatory number of preschool psychologists were determined on the basis of the number of children in the kindergarten in such a way that one preschool psychologist employed 50 percent of the full time must be employed for every 500 children. This part was fully erased from the new law. There are already too few psychologists working in public education and without defining this minimum number, institutions may employ even fewer psychologists in the future, even though more and more children are struggling with mental problems.

More Fill in Lessons as Before

With this amendment, teachers can be ordered to substitute in more hours than before. Presumably, this is also a response partly to the teachers leaving their educational careers, and partly to the strikes and civil disobedience actions of the past year.

The law would also introduce performance-based pay. Until now, teachers were classified into four different grades, and a certain period of professional practice and a certification exam were necessary to advance. A higher grade also meant a higher salary. This banded system would remain, but according to the bill, the employer is obliged to evaluate the work of teachers every year, with the exception of trainees.

The monthly salary would be determined on the basis of the amount of professional practice time, the education required to perform the job, the additional tasks undertaken voluntarily in addition to the job duties, the recognition given by the administrator or the minister responsible for public education related to the teacher’s work, and the amount of the employer’s available funds. However, this new performance-based pay would also mean a salary increase, this would go hand in hand with the listed criteria and would only be available when the already mentioned EU funds arrive. Thus, the salary increase would only be available to teachers with the adoption of the Status Law as a whole, which would mean a negative change in many ways.

Teachers who do not accept the status law can expect significantly less severance pay. Thus, after working for less than 20 years, they can receive only one month’s severance pay, between 20-30 years, two months’ pay, and over that, three months’ pay, while previously after a minimum of 20 years of employment, eight months’ pay was paid. In addition, there is a section in the text of the bill stating that if the teacher establishes a new public education employment relationship or a new employment relationship at a vocational training school within 30 days, they are  not entitled to severance pay.

“This measure is completely foreign to the world of work; its sole purpose is to force colleagues to accept the status law and to deter them from leaving their jobs. Also, to punish those who leave despite this.” – declared one of the national committee members of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ).

Ratification of The Status Law

The draft law was originally called the Revenge Law because, according to critics, the government is only driven by the intention of revenge by revoking the legal relationship of public employees, by taking measures that make strikes impossible, and by banning the expression of opinions.

The government has repeatedly emphasized that with illegal work stoppages, i.e., with civil disobedience, teachers violate the students’ right to learn, but the reason why teachers chose civil disobedience in many cases is because by complying with the strike law passed last year, their protest as stipulated in the legislation became invisible. This was followed by the dismissal of teachers, which many saw as the government’s revenge for the fact that the teachers protested systemic problems with civil disobedience.

The Status Law has not yet been officially adopted by the Parliament, it has only been tabled. However, the government currently has a 2/3 legislative majority, so the adoption of the law is probably only a matter of time. Protests are ongoing throughout the country, and thousands of teachers have declared that they will leave the field if the status law is introduced, even though there are already at least that many teachers missing from public education. The wave of resignations linked to the law has already begun, news is constantly coming from different parts of the country about teachers resigning.

Even the European Commission sees some points of the Status Law as problematic and calls for several significant amendments to the draft status law. These amendments should deal with: the obligation to consult with trade unions; the issue of the weekly working time tied to education, which is currently divided into 22–26 hours; the new wage band system, and the Commission also considers it a concern that employers can assign teachers to teach in another institution within the district.

On June 16 2023, the MPs debated the draft law for 18 hours in the Hungarian parliament, while a protesting crowd of a thousand people gathered outside. During the debate, even visitors were excluded from the parliament building, but the debate did not bring any meaningful results. The status law can be introduced at any time, which is usually referred to as the last nail in the coffin of Hungarian education.

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Eva Agnes Toth
Republikon Institute