European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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18 January 2019

Hungary: working time reform leads to massive resistance

In December 2018, Hungary’s parliament concluded a reform of the country’s working time legislation, allowing employers to demand as many as 400 hours of overtime a year instead of the current 250, and delay payment for them for up to three years instead of one. The decision has led to massive protests before and after it passed on 12 December 2018, with the unions describing it as a ‘slave law’.

In recent months, the government has pushed through a number of unpopular laws that have sparked mass protests. The latest legislative measure is a change to working time regulations. Passed in December, the modification could add two extra hours to an average working day. That's the equivalent of an extra working day per week. The reform allows companies to ask for 60 percent more overtime annually — as many as 400 hours, and up from the previous maximum of 250 hours.

The modification, labelled by critics as ‘slave law’ sparked intense disapproval from opposition groups, with non-stop protests and rallies taking place in the capital as well as other cities. The outcome of a survey of thinktank Policy Agenda led to the conclusion that up to 83% of the citizens are against the labour law.

The government controlled media have exaggerated the protests, saying that the measure is necessary because of the country’s labour shortages and implying that workers will have the option to reject the extra hours. But unions have pointed out that employers a number of routes to pressure employees into agreeing. The trade unions came up with this criticism before the law passed the parliament. Together with other non-governmental organisations, they have initiated a series of protests, whilst more nationwide demonstrations are under preparation. The parliamentary opposition has announced an appeal to the Constitutional Court with a request for it to annul the recent labour code amendments.

During one of the last demonstration (in 5 January 2019), the unions presented a four-point list of union demands - pertaining to the ‘slave law,’ as well as improved minimum wages, a more flexible retirement system and other labour-related issues - and announced nationwide demonstrations by trade unions on 19 January 2019. The unions have also taken a strong stand for fair regulations regarding strike rights, as well as dialogue and prior consultation before the government modifies legislation affecting workers.

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