Considerable progress towards the quality of education in Hungary has been made by the Hungarian Teachers’ Union (Syndicat des enseignants de Hongrie – SEH). The SEH, one of Education International’s (EI) affiliates, has been engaged in negotiations with the government and other unions since the end of 2013.
On 22 November 2013, the SEH signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Education System Management Centre, known as the Klebersberg Centre (KLIK). This agreement covers around 123,000 teachers and other salaried workers in the education sector, totalling around 150,000 people.
According to SEH President Piroska Galló, the agreement includes the payment of overtime over 32 working hours per week to teaching staff employed by the KLIK from 1 January 2014. This is only a “small step forward”, she said. The collective bargaining agreement also covers social security benefits and the extra hours of union representatives.
Galló has also highlighted that the KLIK must guarantee the funding of the obligations undertaken, and that education staff working time must be in accordance with the stipulations in the Agreement.
After signing the sectoral collective bargaining agreement, the SEH also reached an agreement with four other education unions on the application of the agreement: the Union of salaried workers of the professional training and education sectors of Hungary (Magyar Közoktatási és Szakképzési Szakszervezet – MKSZSZ), the Union Committee of salaried workers in Music and Dance education (Magyar Zeneművészek és Táncművészek Szakszervezete – MZTSZ), the Union of Christian Teachers (Keresztény Pedagógusok Szakszervezete, affiliated to Hungary’s Workers’ Councils), and the Union of Heads of Educational Establishments (Oktatási Vezetők Szakszervezete – OVSZ).
Because the collective bargaining agreement does not cover the salaried workers of certain establishments (kindergartens, schools run by churches, private schools, foundation schools, and the educational establishments run by the Ministry), the Minister of Education undertook, through the agreement signed with the SEH, to sign collective bargaining agreements with those categories, too.
Negative reaction to the new Education Act
This agreement comes in the wake of the Public Education Act which was implemented on 1 September 2013. In its statement to mark World Teachers’ Day on 5 October 2013, the SEH lamented the fact that “the negative impact of the new Public Education Act … and the abnormalities in the teaching career model [that] have become a reality this year”.
The union underlined that all players in education – teachers, parents and children – are faced with an impossible situation because of the hasty application of the new Education Act. The legislation is impossible to enforce, according to the SHE, without carrying out preliminary inquiries and estimates, and without having any time to test the new form of organisation of salaried workers in the public education system.
Towards decent working and living conditions for teachers
The union noted that the new pay scheme does not allow for variations in teachers’ levels of knowledge, overtime and the quality of work. Teachers have more work than under the old system and, despite the increase in salary, they are not actually getting paid more, and are sometimes even getting paid less than before.
“For two years now, the SEH has been trying to call attention to the risks of restructuring,” said the SEH in its October statement. “But our actions were not taken seriously by the teachers or by society. The government made use of excellent communication techniques to allay fears, to reduce the insight of the stakeholders, and to divide teachers. Yet, it is in the interest of society as a whole to recognise that overworked teachers and an unjust pay scheme will not help to increase the quality of teaching and will not serve the interests of our children. The outcry of the teachers is only too justified, as are their worries about the future of education.”
Call to strengthen social dialogue
Social dialogue is vital to ensure teachers’ voices are heard. Indeed, the SEH participated in a conference on social dialogue – its closing seminar was organised by the Consultation and Information Management in European Schools (CIMES) on 14 November 2013 in Budapest. Teacher trade unions of from seven European countries – Bulgaria, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Serbia – participated.
“In Hungary, the unions are not consulted when the various successive governments develop their education strategies,” Galló condemned. “The SEH has made a habit of inviting the leaders of the political parties responsible for the Education Policy to the meetings of its Executive Board in order to explain the SEH’s position to them. But to no avail.”
She went on to say that the Government’s Education Policy is also developed without any form of consultation. “Draft laws on education, higher education and professional training are drafted without the unions and are only sent to us for review when they are submitted to Parliament. The educational system management Act was introduced in Parliament in the same way. This is what led to the creation of the Educational System Management Centre, known as the Klebersberg (Klebersberg Intézményfenntartó Központ -KLIK), which incorporates over 7,000 mainstream schools, secondary schools and vocational training schools in Hungary.”
Despite the SEH’s efforts in organising demonstrations and in forming a strike committee, the Minister made it clear that a two-thirds majority in the Parliament expressed the will of teachers and that the Act would therefore not be revoked, but that the Minister would be open to negotiations regarding the management of the education system. Following extensive consultations, the SEH finally signed an agreement with the Government, which three of the other four trade union organisation strike committee members also signed.
Informing the candidates to the next elections on the state of education
Galló also noted that her union was organising a consultation with the representatives of the various political parties on the subject of their respective education policies.
Hungary’s elections will be held on 6 April 2014, and the SEH considers it important that its affiliates be kept informed about the education policies of the various parties presenting candidates to the elections.
For this reason, the SEH organised an education policy debate on 1 March at the head office of the Apáczai publishing house; the leaders of the political parties were invited to present their views on the future of education in Hungary. It is important to find out if the SEH’s claims are echoed in the various political parties’ education policies.
The SEH submitted its demands for the education sector during its 20th and 21st conferences and sent them to the political parties so that their own affiliates may have knowledge of the demands. The representatives of the political parties were each given 20 minutes to express their views and to answer questions concerning the way forward.
The SEH’s 10 key messages
“We have identified 10 key messages for quality education,” Galló said.
“1. In 2014, we intend to cooperate with the sector’s unions that signed the joint statement last year, in order to develop a common position, to present a united front whenever the government makes education policies and to respect, if applicable, the right of each and every one of us to express a different opinion, without this being allowed to create conflict between us.
2. Together, we will require that the age of compulsory education in the public education system once again be set at 18 years of age.
3. Together, we will require the refinement of the teachers’ career model, in order for it to be made more favourable for teachers.
4. We will stand together against the privatisation of the education system.
5. We support government measures aimed at providing free education (e.g. the progressive introduction of free school books in public education), we will continue to require an increase to the budget tranche allocated to education. Equal opportunities and social mobility must be made more attainable by increasing the amounts devoted to the funding of education. We do not agree with returning to the three-year professional training system, particularly because of the low levels of general knowledge in the core courses of these schools.
6-7. We support the government’s efforts towards eliminating the Bologna cycles from the teacher training systems, and we support all measures aimed at making the profession’s requirements more demanding for graduates. Our aim is to improve the image of teachers and to increase the level of recognition for this profession in society.
8. We believe that social dialogue is important in all its forms, and we will work to ensure it functions smoothly at all levels, in schools, in districts and at the national level. The SEH has undertaken to represent Hungarian education staff at the European Social Dialogue Committee for Education, after having agreed with the sector’s other unions to always put forward jointly developed positions.
9. Trade unions agree on the fact that it is important to better involve teachers in the decision-making processes relating to education. The political parties put forward the same requirements on the eve of the elections, but they are quickly forgotten about after they have won.
10. The SEH has undertaken to comply with the agreement signed with the government, as long as the government complies with the agreement as well. We are determined to see our actions serve measures which will improve the country’s economic and social situation. It is equally important to note that, since 2004, the year in which Hungary acceded to the EU, no education sector trade union has been able to participate in the development of the national report and they were only able to obtain the final document thanks to the intervention of Brussels.”
EI: Funding and consultation vital
EI supports its Hungarian colleagues in their constant battle to ensure that teachers are provided with decent working and living conditions, stated EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We also urge the national authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure quality education for all by providing adequate funding to the education system and to teachers, and by consulting with the organisations representing education staff.”