BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will raise teachers' wages from September, a government minister said on Sunday, in a move that could help the ruling Fidesz party cement its robust opinion poll lead ahead of a national election expected next April or May.
The announcement comes just nine days after the European Union took Hungary off the list of member states which must take measures to cut their budget deficits, removing the threat of cuts in development funds from Brussels.
Hungary had postponed the decision on the wage hikes, which are part of a new career model for teachers, to secure a favorable decision from the EU.
It also unveiled surprise measures this month to generate more than 100 billion forints ($441.32 million) in additional tax revenues, mainly from the telecoms and financial sectors, to help convince Brussels it can keep the budget deficit below the EU threshold of 3 percent of economic output.
Political analysts have said government-imposed energy utility price cuts have helped Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz keep its ratings well ahead of rivals in the opinion polls and wage increases could also support its popularity.
Zoltan Balog, minister for human resources, was quoted by the national news agency MTI as saying the rise would probably cover half of the planned total increase in teachers' wages.
The rest could come on January 1 or September 1 next year, or in two steps, but a decision will be taken later, he said.
The total monthly wage increase for a teacher with 30 years' experience would amount to about 110,000 forints ($490), Balog said, without disclosing the cost of the measure to the state budget.
According to media reports, the country of 10 million employed about 140,000 school and kindergarten teachers in 2012.
An opinion poll by Tarki carried out on June 12-21 showed that Fidesz had 26 percent support among all voters, twice as much as the main opposition party, the Socialists.
($1 = 226.5916 Hungarian forints)
(Reporting by Sandor Peto, editing by Gareth Jones)