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Curtailing the rights of teachers who demand improvements in the public education system

Severely deteriorating conditions in the public education system in Hungary have led teachers, students and parents to make increasingly louder demands for change. However, instead of listening to their fact-based concerns, the Hungarian government has chosen once again to crack down on dissent, making use also of its excessive regulatory powers based on the forever renewable special legal order.

Dissatisfaction with and within the public education system has been mounting for years in Hungary. In early 2022, teachers’ unions began organising a strike to protest, among others, heavy centralisation, shrinking autonomy, low wages and growing workload. As a reaction, the Government emptied out teachers’ right to strike in a government decree, abusing its excessive regulatory powers it continues to have in the ongoing special legal order. This step was criticized by the International Labour Organisation as well. Since meaningful strike action was no longer possible, teachers turned to civil disobedience, resulting in retaliatory dismissals throughout the autumn of 2022.

Crackdown on dissent continues in 2023: in January, again abusing its rule-by-decree powers, the Government issued a decree that put teachers voicing their dissatisfaction in an even more vulnerable situation. The new rules create an environment where teachers cannot know the potential consequence of their civil disobedience actions until the end of the academic year, further increasing the likelihood of arbitrary, retaliatory dismissals.

It is in this context that the Government put forth its latest proposal related to public education. The draft law, among others, would further weaken teachers’ professional autonomy and would add additional obstacles to the already illusionary possibility to strike. If the Government submits its proposal to the Parliament in its current format, without duly considering the concerns raised by teachers’ unions, it will violate its commitments made to the EU.

Moreover, with these steps, the Government may put additional EU funds at risk in the future, as the violations of teachers’ rights protected also by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU might amount to non-compliance with the horizontal enabling conditions Hungary must fulfil to access EU funds. At the same time, Hungary is yet to address severe issues of non-compliance with horizontal and thematic enabling conditions, as already established by the European Commission, to access EU funds related to education.

Our new paper explains the content and context of the retaliatory legal steps taken by the Hungarian government as a response to its citizens exercising their rights and expressing their opinion on an important public issue: the crisis of the Hungarian education system. Our recommendations aim to bring the current legal framework in line with constitutional and EU law requirements, with the aim of ensuring that no further EU funds are put at risk.

Curtailing the rights of teachers in Hungary – How the Government used legal tools to crack down on teachers asking for improvements in the public education system

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee