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Disappointment following a postponed teachers’ pay raise

October 15th, 2012

Left-of-centre, centrist and pro-government commentators are all appalled by the sudden move announced as part of a 400 billion HUF fiscal package

Early last week, (see BudaPost October 8 and 9), Minister of the Economy György Matolcsy announced as part of his adjustment package that the planned introduction of a “career path” for teachers, comprising an immediate 30 per cent pay raise, will be postponed by four months, from the autumn term of 2013 to the winter term.

Kettős Mérce, a widely read left-of-center opinion blog quotes government spokesperson András Giró-Szász’s comment in a television interview (the comment became an internet sound-bite immediately it was aired) that under difficult economic circumstances “you don’t ask for cognac”.  The author notes that the remark reminds one of a Kádár-era joke about the definition of cognac: it is the drink that the working classes consume through their elected representatives. The blogger accuses the spokesman of cynicism for comparing teachers’ anger over a long-promised but now deferred pay raise to “asking for cognac in a storm.” If the economic situation is so dire – asks the author – why does the government stick to its flat income tax, “overspending in public investments”, “unorthodox economic policies” and “Közgép”? (Közgép is a company accused by the opposition of enjoying special government favours. See BudaPost July 13 and 28.) The commentator believes present economic hardships are a result of the government’s mistaken policies and accuses the government of blaming Europe for its own failures. He remarks that even PM Orbán’s former supporters, e.g. centre-right economists Tamás Mellár (former head of Central Statistical Office) and Attila Chikán (former Minister of the Economy) find fault with the economic policies of the government. In a final pungent reference to the government spokesman, Kettős Mérce suggests that if welfare benefits are reduced and teachers’ salaries are not raised, Giró-Szász’s former employer, the centre-right think tank Századvég could also do without several millions worth of government contracts.

In Heti Válasz, editor-in-chief Gábor Borókai, albeit in a far more moderately worded commentary, also finds it upsetting that the promised pay raise should be postponed. When PM Orbán started reorganizing a heavily indebted and disorganized country, he writes, education was one of the main areas in focus, as is fitting in a country trying to increase its competitiveness. During the controversies on educational reform, which divided even the governing Fidesz party, Orbán stood by Rózsa Hoffmann, the state secretary for public education (see BudaPost November 8th, 2011). Teachers were not consulted during the preparation of the new Public Education Act but “waited patiently” in the hope that the new law would provide more personal security for them. According to polls – Borókai says – teachers value stability and security even above a pay raise. With the economic crisis and the country faring worse than expected, he continues, “it seemed natural to hold back the extra money” promised to teachers. After all, the introduction of the proposed career path was not abolished, only postponed. However, he argues, Matolcsy’s announcement did not simply hurt a proposed measure: it shattered a myth. The image of a government that will see through its plans, whatever it takes, is not credible any more. This has done more harm to its credibility, and not only among teachers but among voters in general, than the government seems to realize, he suggests.  It would be wise, he concludes, to overturn this decision.

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