Public Worker Rap – You have a say even in a green vest!


Members of the Public Workers Movement handed over a letter to the Ministry of Interior in September 2015. Although resignation and fear keeps an increasing number of public employees from raising their voices for their rights and humane work environments, the members of the movement brought to life by the Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network (Magyar Szegénységellenes Hálózat) still have the courage to play, ask, and represent their demand that they as people in employment should also be granted viable conditions. 

The Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network has come to realise several years ago that advocacy in the traditional sense and professional negotiations with decision makers lead nowhere. Without organising those affected into communities and voicing their realities, the case of underprivileged groups cannot move forward an inch. The public employees that have had enough of having to work for petty wages in often unfair working conditions (e.g. lack of equipment), of the abuse committed by work supervisors appointed from amongst them who often rule the others as tyrants, of the constant dependency due to short-term contracts, of the curtailment of fundamental labour rights, and of the prejudice of the members of the public they have to face on a daily basis, have come together to represent their interests, and are not afraid of playing with the situations they have to face each day.

Public employment is problematic on many grounds. On the one hand, it is real work where one has to show up on time and do work in exchange for money, but on the other hand, the Labour Code does not apply to public employees in many instances. For example, public employees have no say about their days off whatsoever. Another paradoxical situation is that the employment setup, which is very advantageous for employers, is often made use of in profit-oriented municipal enterprises, or what’s worse, the workers, who slave away for starvation wages and are supposed to be working for public interests, are made to work in private farms. Although the goal of the initiative is bringing those affected back into the world of employment and stimulating the economy, it is a proven fact that public employment holds back economic growth and stunts the increase of available jobs in the market. In addition, contrary to previous promises, now it provides a living to a lot less people than it did for instance during the months preceding the last parliamentary elections.

Many public employees are of course not faced with these systemic issues, because there are districts where fair working conditions are provided and supervisors treat them with respect. Many don’t even realise that it might not be right that they’re involved in tasks that are not exactly of public interest. They only feel that they have insufficient wages and that the majority of the population has prejudices against them: their work is seen as unnecessary, and they as slackers, which again should bring up the question of the real necessity of public work, and the efficiency of work organisation.

Public workers wanted to work over and show the many displeasing situations they are faced with, in the job centre, working with supervisors, or encountering members of the public. This gave birth to the idea of public play, where passersby can experience what it’s like to be a public worker, while public workers play the characters they meet during their green-vested career. The play was first played in public on this year’s Labour Day, and then on several more occasions, mostly in public places, so that they can reach and engage as many people as possible. The “actors” get a first-hand experience of the situation of public workers, and this way they can better understand the unjust situations and can identify with them better. And for the organisers it’s an important experience because through enacting the job centre staff, work supervisors or malevolent passersby they get to play out their frustrations, and having learnt from the play they can strive to stand up for themselves and communicate as equals in the difficult situations in their real lives as well.

Thankfully, they are in touch with an increasing number of organisations and artists as well, for example the members of the obstacle course and the group can be seen in the latest video clip of the KétHázKör band that is related to the Debrecen-based youth group, with a piece of the interview included at the end. Thanks to the play and the music this topic may get to touch people that live miles away from the world of academic papers, conferences and demonstrations. If we get to feel that being a public worker is not a shame that has to be endured in silence, with one’s head bowed, then there may be hope that those affected be able to stand up for themselves; if supported by the wider society.

The organisers don’t have unrealistic expectations, they are aware that only small steps can be made with relation to the issue. On one occasion for example, by the time they managed to get into real negotiations with the leader of a relevant institution, and were close to effectuating actual changes, the leader in question was removed from his/her position.
Regardless of the fact that public employment is fundamentally problematic, it would be a significant improvement if payments were not late, if workers always got the tools needed for their work, if they received transport passes and cafeteria benefits, and if their contracts were for longer than just a few months at a time, not keeping them in a constant state of dependency and fear.

In their letter to the Ministry of Interior, they requested to receive their wages in cash instead of the obligation of having a bank account, which only forces further expenses on them, despite the fact that making ends meet from their wages is already a work of art. We hope that the Ministry of Interior will prioritise the livelihood of public workers over paying account management fees to banks, and will make effective steps in order to fulfil the request.