“Éva Vatai, a French teacher at a high school in Pécs, in southern Hungary, cannot believe it. She was recently docked five per cent of her pay – Ft16,700 (€44) out of a net monthly salary of Ft300,000 (€790) – after refusing to go to work in protest at the working conditions in her profession, in February 2022. She and her colleagues refer to the action taken as “civil disobedience”, as they are not able to fully exercise their right to strike under the current legislation in Hungary.

Almost 30 per cent of teachers took part in one of the largest mobilisations in recent years, according to the democratic teachers’ union PDSZ (Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezetének). It all started on 31 January 2022, when some 20,000 teachers held a two-hour pre-emptive stoppage, accompanied by a motorcade, calling for the defeat of the government in the April parliamentary elections, among other solidarity actions. On 16 March, Hungary’s two main teachers’ unions, the PDSZ and PSZ (Pedagógusok Szakszervezete), went on strike again for more than two weeks, after five months of fruitless negotiations with the government.

Their demands were linked to the low pay and the deteriorating working conditions in the sector. Hungary is second-to-last in terms of teachers’ pay in the European Union. This explains the shortfall of almost one in two maths teachers, for example, according to the specialist think tank T-TUDOK. The staff shortages are growing worse as more and more teachers leave schools to earn a better living in catering and retail, at a time when schools are having to cope with an influx of refugee pupils from Ukraine.”