Széchenyi 2020

Who we are

Who we are?

The Forum for the Co-operation of Trade Unions (SZEF in the Hungarian abbreviation) is a national trade union confederation which was established at the time of the transition (1989-1990), when the entire Hungarian trade union movement was in turmoil. SZEF is a national trade union confederation unifying the interest protection organisations of employees in the following industries:

  • education,
  • health and social services,
  • public collections,
  • cultural and art institutions,
  • central and local administration,
  • law enforcement,
  • public order and security.

SZEF is one of the largest union confederations of the country. In the middle of 2015, 13 member trade unions with about 70 000 members were registered with it.

Basic principles

The public service trade unions which established SZEF in 1990 planned at that time that the trade union confederation should operate as a loose action group as well as a forum for systematic consultation. The common forum worked well and embodied itself relatively quickly in the consciousness of the public. After half a decade - with a worsening of conditions in public service – it became clear: an action alliance and a consultation forum would no longer be sufficient.

The transformation of the confederation into a professional organisation, a national union confederation, was carried out on May 4th 1995 on the occasion of the 1st Congress of SZEF. The two basic principles of SZEF are: party-independent activity; and strictly democratic functioning. Accordingly, SZEF is ready for dialogue with all political parties and other organisations, without committing itself to them, concerning all issues in the interest of public service employees. Both steering committees of SZEF - the Confederation Council, consisting of representatives of the member trade unions; and the acting Executive Committee, created from the leaders of the largest member organisations – are consistently attentive so that the member organisations can fully protect their autonomy and so that the Confederation does not overshadow their particular individual identity.


Following its establishment, SZEF has been continuously concerned with the complex activity of interest protection. It has also sought to react essentially to the social problems far beyond the working sphere which have resulted from globalisation and Hungary’s European Union membership. SZEF takes an active role in the analysis of the domestic and international conditions of public services (several international conferences at a scientific level, which have focused on technical and interest protection questions, have served this purpose in the past fifteen years) and consistently rises up in reaction to any steps which unfavourably affect the quality of life, above all the terms and conditions of employment of public service employees.

SZEF continues to argue for an increase in the attractiveness and the social acknowledgment of public service and for the security of the people employed in this sector. The success of these efforts shows up in such important results as the laws on the legal status of civil servants and public employees (1992) and the significant improvement in the income situation of public service employees (2001-2002). A continuation of this outstandingly successful decade did not, however, appear: annually recurring personnel cuts have weakened job security, while the catching-up of salaries has also stopped. SZEF has used every legal means in all particular cases and has consistently raised its voice against thoughtless and unfounded personnel reductions, as well as against the outsourcing of certain public services, while pleading for the equitable and fair management of the fates of people dismissed from public services. The Confederation continues to strive for the catching-up of the still-low salaries with the lower levels of the European Union average in line with their relationship to the improvements in economic performance.

Among the efforts of SZEF, the demand - the requirement - for a normal functioning of forums for the reconciliation of interests takes a special place. The confederation and several of its member organisations were the initiators of sectoral forums for social dialogue in the public service. This concerns the Council for the National Reconciliation of Interests in the Public Service (OKÉT), the National Council for the Employment Relations of Public Employees (KOMT) and the Council for the Reconciliation of Interests of Civil Servants (KÉT). These forums, as with the institution for the reconciliation of interests at the national level (OÉT), have fulfilled their function in the past few years with varying success. Governments changing every four years have frequently only formally fulfilled their obligations in connection with interest reconciliation. The conservative government between 1998 and 2002 emptied, and afterwards converted, the institutional system for interest reconciliation in such a way that it was practically terminated. In 2002, the coalition of socialists and independent liberals came to power and reinstated the rights of the abolished institutions of social dialogue, but the reconciliation of interests quite soon came to a halt. In 2003, the government side submitted neither to the OKÉT nor to the KOMT on those issues which would be important from the aspect of public service. Thus, without prior social dialogue, such issues were implemented as the Bills on the reform of the health service; the concept of the Act on a uniform public service; and, later, the convergence programme and drastic personnel cuts, as well as the transformation of public service which saw a reduction of the rights of public employees resulting from their legal status. SZEF naturally takes advantage of every specific possibility to criticise the formal handling of social dialogue.

Co-operation, contacts

It belongs among the most important efforts of SZEF to energise and promote co-operation and the common appearance of the Hungarian trade union movement which was exaggeratedly splintered after the transition. In this respect, it has initiated and continued an active role, starting close co-operation with the other independent confederation of public service employees, ÉSZT (Trade Union Confederation of the Intelligentsia). With the aim of harmonising common appearances and action, a new union structure called SZEF- ÉSZT was created. Currently, the thought of the advancement of this union, if necessary in the form of a fusion, continues to mature in both trade union confederations. SZEF - like ÉSZT - considers it very important to co-operate also with those trade unions in public service which are attached to other national trade union confederations, aiming at common action to organise demonstrations. Such common measures have so far increased the weight of our demands to our mutual advantage.

In 2013 a merger procedure began, where three Hungarian trade union confederations – including SZEF – has established a new umbrella organisation, the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation (MASZSZ) for closer cooperation.

SZEF and its member organisations are also active at the international trade union movement. We are members of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and actively involved in its committees, decision making bodies. Our Pensioner and Youth Sections represent us at FERPA and the ETUC Youth Committee.

SZEF, with its member trade unions, is an active participant in the international trade union movement. The office-holders and the leaders of the member trade unions, as well as the designated SZEF personnel, make a useful contribution to common work in the ETUC and its different committees. We maintain fruitful co-operation with the trade union federations of the Visegrád Four (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia), holding every two years discussions as to the current objectives of interest protection and consultation, aiming at the co-ordination of our points of view. SZEF also considers it important to look after bilateral relations; therefore, there is a systematic exchange of experiences and opinions with public service trade unions in numerous countries.

Organisational structure of SZEF

SZEF holds its election Congresses every four years, in between we have annual Congresses according to Hungarian law. The last Congress, the 11th in a row, was held at 12-13th June 2015. Between congresses, the SZEF National Assembly, which is convened as required but at least biannually, is the most senior body of SZEF. Its members are delegated in relation to the membership size of the member trade unions. Operational guidance is noted by the acting Executive Committee, the participants in which are the President, four Vice-Presidents and a representative of each member trade union with more than 3000 members, while the Pensioner and Youth sections of SZEF also delegate a representative. The acting Executive Committee holds its meetings monthly, or more frequently as required. The SZEF Audit Committee, consisting of nine representatives of the member trade unions, examines economic activity and the implementation of the budget of the Confederation.


Szakszervezetek Együttműködési Fóruma (SZEF)
Forum for the Co-operation of Trade Unions SZEF
H- 1068 Budapest, Városligeti fasor u. 10.
Phone: + 36 1 413 1614
Fax: + 36 1 413 1615
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