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Mayor used vocational students as unpaid labor force in his restaurants

Photo: Eger TV

Fidesz mayor of the Heves county municipality of Szihalom József Bóta (pictured) has used students from the local catering vocational school as unpaid labor in his own restaurants and cafes, reports Magyar Nemzet.

The formerly independent Fidesz mayor reportedly employed students of the Szent Lőrinc Secondary School for Catering and Tourism – an institution he founded and led for 20 years – in his restaurants and cafes under the guise of an internship program.

Although former students of the secondary school insist that they received a quality education, they often had to work at Bóta’s restaurants well beyond the 8-hour limit pertaining to interns. Students were often put on slicing and cleaning duty for numerous consecutive days and were often not allowed to have a lunch break, and the food that was prepared by the interns was reportedly sold in the restaurants. This marks a serious conflict of interests since restaurants receive state grants on student contracts and on the ingredients used for educational purposes. By taking the grants but not paying a salary to the interns, Bóta’s restaurants managed to cut costs.

One of the students told Magyar Nemzet that on one occasion students had to choose whether to work a 12-hour shift at an event held at one of Bóta’s restaurants or work during the winter school break. Mayor Bóta, however, rejected these claims and stated that only those students who arrived late were made to work beyond the 8-hour limit, and that everything had taken place according to the rules.

According to some of the students, during a three-month internship program on the Canary Islands in 2015, the school only paid them a third of the promised stipend of EUR 300 (USD 350) per month. Bóta admitted that the school indeed gave less money to the students because it could not purchase the plane tickets in advance so the tickets were much more expensive, but he insisted that the school “had not taken away a cent.”

Bóta has been elected mayor of his home village of Szihalom twice since 2010. In 2015, the Bóta-led council contracted Bóta’s company to provide catering at a local festival. Bóta insists that there was no conflict of interest as the contract was signed by the vice-mayor and his wife, there were no other competitors in the procurement and the event was loss-making for the company anyway.

Anomalies in the school were revealed when Hungarian Pentecostal Church Eastern Human Services took over its operation a couple of years ago in accordance with the government’s initiative to centralize the vocational school sector and get rid of private institutions. By that time the school was HUF 30 million (USD 113,000) in debt. Despite the debt, the Hungarian Pentecostal Church decided to operate the school and even allowed Bóta to remain principal and oversee the school’s finances. After revealing additional abuses, the Human Services filed a report against Bóta for irresponsible management, and the National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) banned him from company management. In the spring of 2016, Bóta made another bold move by asking a HUF 40,000 (USD 150) “contribution fee” from freshmen, even though his foundation that had formerly operated the school no longer had any official connection with the institution.

Bóta justified this move by claiming that the Human Services had not paid the state grants to the school, so additional funding was needed to save the school. However, based on payment documents acquired by Magyar Nemzet, the Human Services had fulfilled its payment obligation until autumn 2016. Despite this, teachers of the school did not receive their salary for August.

Teachers desperate to get their salaries turned to their MP Zsolt Nyitrai (Fidesz), but Nyitrai did not even answer their requests. According to some locals, this is not surprising, since Nyitrai allegedly has a good relationship with Bóta. Although the latter refuted claims that he and Nyitrai are friends, one of his restaurants hosted meetings of Eger-based Fidesz politicians on multiple occasions.

Balázs Pivarnyik :