The Hungarian Interior Ministry (because there has been no Education Ministry in Hungary since 2010) is planning to apply stricter, more detailed disciplinary rules as a result of a new bill on teacher status that curtails several employee rights. What is being called the “revenge bill” would terminate civil servant status for teachers and instead employ them under the scope of a completely new law within the framework of a "public education employment legal relationship".
Hungarian teachers and pedagogues started expressing their displeasure with the current education system more than a year ago. They face serious problems every day: their autonomy is being taken away by the central government (they are not allowed to deviate from centrally-mandated teaching materials which are full of government propaganda); their working conditions are poor; the simplest of processes are overcomplicated due to extreme centralization (they have to supply chalk, paper, and other materials at their own expense to be able to teach because restocking these items has to be centrally approved, which takes months or is refused); they work in old, unmaintained, and therefore sometimes dangerous school buildings where the temperature is kept at a maximum of 18 degrees during winter, etc.; they are extremely poorly paid (less than 700 euros per month) but massively overloaded (required to work as substitutes without pay and to do a lot of unnecessary administrative work); their profession is generally not respected in Hungarian society; and the government’s communications about education only fuels their loss of prestige. Having already drained away the financing for education, the government keeps finding ways to spend even less on it. After the first wave of educator protests in May 2022, the government limited the educators’ right to strike through new legislation leveraging the existing state of emergency due to Russia’s war on Ukraine as a pretext for introducing such new laws more easily. In June 2022, 13 teachers were also illegally dismissed from their jobs for their participation in civil disobedience to express their dissatisfaction with the system - the teachers are suing, and their case is currently before the courts. Now the Orbán regime is preparing to even more crudely and cruelly break the society of teachers who have been resisting for more than a year by introducing the “revenge bill”. The government hypocritically claims that the capacities necessary to improve the education system depend on EU funding. This allows them to blame the escalation of the situation on the EU and include this agenda in their anti-Brussels propaganda. Moreover, the “revenge bill” is contrary to the government's EU commitments.
Teachers in a vulnerable situation
The government published the new bill on 2 March that is not only the most anti-employee and anti-teacher bill of all time, but will also negatively affect both students and parents. The bill does not respond to any burning educational issues, but will change teachers’ legal status and the operation of schools. Not only does it not protect the right of students to education, it even specifically undermines it. While this law will impact millions of Hungarians’ everyday lives, the government did not meaningfully consult it with stakeholders, nor did it take into account the demands that teachers, students and parents had been making for over a year. The Hungarian education system does not need this new law, which aims to reduce faculty independence and to dominate educators, but instead urgently needs educational reforms which are based on broad social consultation.
The new rules would make teachers and institutions even more vulnerable to the school district centres that currently exercise both employer and maintenance powers. Organizations like trade unions, NGOs, and civil society initiatives are rejecting all such efforts to further centralize the public education system, intimidate teachers, and limit their professional freedom.
According to the government's plans, from 1 June 2023, all employees in publicly accredited education regardless of the type of provider (state, church, private or foundation) would become subject to a unified legal status law that contains extremely disadvantageous provisions for everyone covered by it, including those currently covered by the Labor Code. In the case of those who are now civil servants, the difference will be horrendous.
On 26 April there was a negotiation between the trade unions (PDSZ, PSZ) and Zoltán Maruzsa, Secretary of State for Public Education at the Interior Ministry, just one day after police used tear gas and some illegally-placed barriers to "defend" themselves against student and teacher protesters at the Karmelita Monastery, which houses Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's office. The government made minor concessions in relation to the provisions of the bill on the status of teachers, but according to the interest group representatives, there has still been no substantial change.
"Breaking either their hearts or their spines"
Four unacceptable, critical points in the bill were modified after the meeting with the unions:
- Monitoring teachers’ electronic devices
Based on the bill, teachers' personal computers and other electronic devices would have been monitored in their homes, but this rule will now apply just to devices provided by their employer. This point still raises human rights questions, not to mention the GDPR.
- Transfer of teachers
The education system is already short 16,000 teachers; since the bill was published, almost 5,000 teachers have declared they will resign if it becomes law. Instead of trying to win over these teachers and improve their working conditions, the government wants to transfer teachers to other schools to cover the teacher shortage. The original bill stated that employers such as school district centres can change an educator’s place of work at any time. This would greatly affect students, especially young ones. Since then, the only change to the bill regarding the transferring of teachers is that the government has allowed that as long as a teacher is teaching lower primary school (i.e., until the 4th grade), the teacher cannot be transferred, but older children’s teachers can still be transferred freely, even in an ad hoc way.
3. Students can be sent to another institution in the event of a teacher strike
The original bill contained a clause stating that if teachers strike, their students could be sent to another school, which would not only be highly inconvenient but also emotionally hard for the students. After the meeting with the unions, this rule was eliminated from the bill.
4. Principals hired without public tenders
The bill also stated that principals could be appointed to lead educational institutions without having to apply through a public tender, in order for the state’s interests to be better served. This is completely undemocratic and would allow the government to use such principals as puppets. The idea was removed from the bill as a result of the 26 April meeting with the unions.
Although these four points are now to be either modified or excluded, there are still 46 more points in the bill which, as one teacher put it, “break either their hearts or their spines”, referring to the fact that teachers would either have to leave their cherished careers or automatically accept the new legislation (teachers must notify their employers in writing by 31 May 2023 to terminate their legal relationship in accordance with the current rules of the Civil Service Act) and subject themselves to the new law even if they don’t agree with it morally. Without listing all of the points, I would like to highlight several future rules which will harm teachers, students and parents who will have to face the following consequences: 1) as a disciplinary procedure, educators can be punished with a 20% salary deduction for up to 6 months; 2) the 3-4 month trial period will be increased to 6 months; 3) the 2-month period for notice of resignation will be increased to 6 months; 4) maximum working hours will be increased from 32 hours to 48 hours per month, and daily working hours would increase from 8 to 12 hours; 5) educators could be newly obligated to work on Sundays as well (this and the preceding provisions were obviously created to “handle” the teacher shortage); 6) obtaining another professional qualification may become mandatory in the framework of continuing education/retraining; 7) the number of times a teacher is expected to substitute will be 80 occasions instead of the current 26, and the substitution limit will change from 6 occasions per week to 28; 8) in public schools, more than half of the teaching staff may consist of adjunct teachers, which would result in the growing burden of extra work falling on fewer and fewer permanent teachers; 9) it will be possible to employ university students as teachers before they have obtained their university degrees; 10) educators' freedom of speech will be limited: they cannot make negative statements about public education, even outside of working hours, in order to avoid weakening public trust in public education; 11) annual performance evaluations will be introduced for teachers which will punish 25% of them, the so-called "underperformers", by prohibiting them from receiving a salary increase and instead give their 20% raises to the “overperformers”, which will have a massive, negative impact on the community; moreover, this ostensibly performance-based pay also evaluates teachers based on subjective aspects, such as "cultured behaviour appropriate to the performance of public service tasks" or "strengthening the good reputation of the institution in one’s personal, written, online communication and behaviour"; the evaluations will ultimately be approved by the school district administrator, who doesn't typically know teachers personally; 12) the role of trade unions and their advocacy scope will change dramatically: if the representation threshold does not reach a minimum 10% of all employees in the field, the government will not have to negotiate with trade unions either at the national level or at the school maintenance level; 13) the academic year will increase by a whole month, i.e., until July 15th; 14) the pedagogical programs of schools and preschools will no longer be decided by the teachers or educators, but instead by principals appointed by the education district centres; 15) disciplinary decisions regarding student issues will be made by a committee consisting of a representative of the administrator, the principal (who is also appointed by the administrator), and a teacher acting on behalf of the board of education.
Centralization on all levels
The government’s strong centralizing efforts are present on every educational level, from preschool to university, causing the quality of higher education to also deteriorate. However, the regime’s real goal is to grind down the last crumbs of resistance by breaking down the teacher-student-parent community. Instead of a coherent, strong community, the government wants to oversee a fragile, weak group of people who could easily turn against each other, making cooperation, the joint representation of their interests, and advocacy even more impossible. The bill’s main goal is to maintain the Orbán regime’s power and to destroy a community which is constantly saying ‘No’ to the regime’s abuse. The government doesn’t want a new generation of citizens who will be free, but rather oppressed people who have been deprived of their rights and their autonomy, to make them a perfect example for the new generation of Orbán-servants. The Orbán regime is sacrificing our children’s future for its own power and simultaneously sacrificing our entire nation.