Budapest, Oct 14 (EFE).- Thousands of people took to the streets of the Hungarian capital Friday to show support for teachers threatened with dismissal for demanding pay hikes and better working conditions.
Responding to a call from a student organization, around 5,000 teachers, students and parents gathered in Budapest’s Heroes Square before marching across the center of the city to the Interior Ministry, which has overall responsibility for education.
Dozens of teachers have been warned that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they continue to take part in acts of civil disobedience aimed at drawing attention to their plight.
With a starting salary of a little more than 420 euros ($408) a month, Hungary’s educators are among the lowest paid in the European Union.
The government of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who won re-election in April, said earlier this week that it plans by 2025 to increase teachers’ pay to 80 percent of average earnings of university graduates, starting with a boost of roughly 20 percent next year.
But the premier has made fulfilling that commitment contingent on reaching an accord with the European Commission to release EU recovery funds being withheld by Brussels due to the Orban administration’s ostensible shortcomings in the realm of rule-of-law.
“This is just a promise like all the others of the government. For now it’s nothing more and I don’t believe they will keep it,” 17-year-old Piroska told EFE during the demonstration in Budapest.
Her friend, Zsofia, added that the problem goes beyond low pay for teachers.
“It is necessary to reform education entirely and give more autonomy to the schools,” she said.
Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has sought to tighten the central government’s control of schools in a nation that lacks an education ministry, moving earlier this year to restrict teachers’ right to strike.
And the threats to fire teachers who protest are coming from “school district centers” led by Orban’s hand-picked appointees.
Two weeks ago, one of the district centers sparked an outcry by firing five teachers.
Hungary also suffers from a worsening shortage of teachers, with more than 15,000 unfilled positions. EFE mn/dr