“Slave-labor law” would bring radical changes to Hungarian labor

April 21, 2017

A legislative amendment under debate in the National Assembly could usher in drastic changes to labor practices in Hungary and place further control over working hours into the hands of employers.

The amendment, proposed last week by the Fidesz-led parliamentary Economic Committee under Fidesz MP Erik Bánki, would extend the current labor timeframe to three years from its present 12 months.

What this would mean for workers is that employers would have more flexibility to modify workers’ working hours at will. According to 24.hu, the committee aims to encourage “flexible arrangements” between workers and employers when concluding collective agreements. But employers would ultimately hold final power in determining when, and for how long, workers are on the job.

The 12-month timeframe, which was previously only two months long, is the time period from which average labor hours are calculated. Labor laws require that Hungarian workers may not work more than an average of 48 hours per week, including overtime, stretched across a 12-month period.

If the amendments are passed and this period is extended to three years, employers would be granted even further ability to manipulate the working and non-working hours of workers at will; it would be possible to grant only a single off-day per week for seasonal workers and workers on multiple shifts, and still be in compliance with labor laws. It would also essentially eliminate the need for employers to pay extra for overtime work, as the overtime hours could simply be offset later by off-time.

The committee argues that the amendment responds to a need for better coordination between labor hours and operating hours, and that it aims to protect workers and maintain their jobs in a changing economic environment. The committee also claims the amendment would make production more predictable for employers and ensure an adequate workforce.

Radical-right party Jobbik opposed the proposals in the National Assembly, and called the amendment “the slave-labor law.” The Iron Workers’ Trade Union also criticized the legislation, saying it would allow multinational corporations to dictate the pace of labor.