Hungarian workers protest against slave-like labour legalisation

This 16 December 2018 video says about itself:

🇭🇺Thousands in Hungary protest PM Viktor Orbán‘s ‘slave law’ | Al Jazeera English

Thousands of people protested in the capital city of Hungary, Budapest, against a controversial new labour law and the rule of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The protest, called “Merry Xmas Mr Prime Minister”, was the fourth and biggest demonstration in a week by leftist opposition parties, student groups, trade unions and ordinary people against the nationalist government.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands reports.

Many countries have struggled to deal with the issue of homelessness but Hungary may be the first to put a constitutional ban on living on the streets. From next week, being homeless in Hungary will violate the constitution: here. The Hungarian goverment in this acts similarly to its fellow right-wingers in, eg, Britain and the USA; but even more drastically.

By Markus Salzmann:

Protests against new labour law in Hungary

18 December 2018

Braving freezing temperatures, several thousand workers have taken to the streets of Budapest on a daily basis since last Wednesday to protest against the tightening up of labour law by the Hungarian government. One week ago, 10,000 people protested against the new “Slave Law.” Police used tear gas and water cannon to brutally repel the demonstrators.

On Wednesday, parliament passed the new bill proposed by the right-wing Fidesz party led by Prime Minister Victor Orbán. On Friday and Saturday, riots took place with more than 50 participants arrested and many wounded in clashes with police. According to media reports, 14 police officers were injured. The media described the protests as “the most violent protests in more than ten years.” The initial protests were limited to the capital city, but protests also took place on Friday in Pecs in southern Hungary.

The law reform is designed to increase the annual overtime employers are allowed to demand from their workers from 250 to 400 hours. At the same time, companies no longer have to compensate or pay overtime within one year, but only within three years.

The protests not only included calls for the repeal of the new labour code, but also for the resignation of Premier Orbán and for basic political changes. In the 10 years Orbán has been in power, he has led Hungary towards dictatorship and strengthened the most right-wing elements in the country.

The protests are also directed against another law passed Wednesday, which subordinates the judiciary to even more control by the government. The law places new administrative courts directly under the justice minister, Laszlo Trocsanyi, a close ally of Orbán.

The tightening of the Labour Code serves the interests of international corporations operating in the country, especially the auto industry, which accounts for about one third of all Hungarian exports. Nearly all international carmakers, such as Audi, BMW and Opel, produce in Hungary. They are attracted in particular by wages that are around one third of what the auto companies pay in countries like Germany. Hungary is considered a “location with low labour costs, well-trained workers and weak unions”, the Wiener Zeitung notes.

As in other eastern European countries, massive emigration and the decline of the education system is beginning to affect the labour market. That is why companies are having increasing difficulty finding skilled workers. Orbán’s law means that such skilled workers can in future be compelled to work much longer hours.

Union representatives rightly refer to the law as a backdoor to the introduction of a six-day working week. Foreign Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó recently stated that investors have welcomed the proposals of the Hungarian government, because they will increase competitiveness.

In all of the protests, many participants wore yellow vests. They were expressing their solidarity with the protests in France, where the opposition to President Emmanuel Macron has assumed the dimensions of a mass movement of the working class against the capitalist system. The latest protests in Hungary have been supported by students and school pupils, as is the case in France.

Although the unions have increasingly adapted to the government line in recent years, they felt obliged to respond to workers’ pressure for the protests. The MASZSZ trade union group even threatened a general strike if the government did not withdraw the law. Other unions, such as the teachers’ union, also joined the protests. The Internet portal published a survey by the polling institute Pulzus according to which 81 percent of respondents agreed with the protests.

The majority of protesters are expressing genuine anger at the right-wing government, but far-right forces are trying to exploit the protests for their own ends. The neo-fascist Jobbik party has called for rejection of the new labour law, and far-right-wing forces are using social media to mobilise against it. The Jobbik leadership called upon its regional organisations to travel to Budapest on Friday to participate in the protests. …

The Orbán government is responding to the protests with an extremely aggressive, right-wing campaign. As was the case when the government took a fierce stance against refugees, Orbán raises the cudgel of anti-Semitism. According to Balazs Hidveghi, the communications director of the governing party, the Jewish US billionaire George Soros “organised the violence in Budapest.” Soros and his network were only interested in riots, and provocation and protests had been deliberately planned, as was the violence against policemen, Hidveghi explained, according to the Hungarian news agency MTI.

Recently, Hungary’s head of government initiated the bundling of media outlets favourable to the government in a new consortium. In early December, he signed a decree stating that this measure was of “strategic importance” and in the public interest. The measure permits Orbán to increase his influence over the press in Hungary and neutralise any media opposition. This explains why many of the Hungarian media outlets refuse to report on the protest or do so only to portray the protesters as “rabble.”

Protests against the right-wing government of Premier Victor Orbán have continued this week. Thousands had taken to the streets in Budapest and other big cities last week. The demonstrations were triggered by a new law that increases the number of overtime hours that employers can demand from their workers from 250 to 400 per year: here.

Every year, the 28-country [European Union] bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies intended to support farmers around the continent and keep rural communities alive. But across Hungary and much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. [New York Times]

14 thoughts on “Hungarian workers protest against slave-like labour legalisation

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  3. Protests against Hungary’s “slave law”; car workers in two-hour strike

    Around 2,000 protestors marched through the Hungarian capital Budapest on Saturday. They were protesting the law brought in last month by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party.

    Under the legislation companies can demand workers do 400 hours a year compulsory overtime, equivalent to a six-day week. Companies will also have up to three years to reimburse their workers for the overtime worked. Some marchers opposed attacks on democratic rights.

    Other marches took place in 12 Hungarian towns and cities. Surveys reveal 80 percent of Hungarians are opposed to the overtime working law. Unions are reportedly in discussion over a general strike against the law.

    On January 18, 4,000 autoworkers at an Audi factory in the west of the country held a two-hour strike over low pay.


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