Hungary Introduces New ‘Slave Law’ Despite Growing Opposition

Supporting another highly controversial law, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been met with a series of protests brewing across the nation. On December 20, 2018, Hungarian president Janos Ader passed a highly controversial labor law commonly referred to as the “slave law” by its critics. The law allows employers to request up to an additional 150 hours of overtime, amongst other controversial demands. Despite growing opposition across the country in the form of weeks of protests and plans for strikes, the law, which the country’s largely nationalist parliament approved on December 12, was passed.

Upon being physically expelled from the state TV headquarters, independent lawmaker opposed to the new amendments, Akos Hadhazy, stated that “[t]hese protests have shown that people are truly very dissatisfied.” Hadhazy also confirmed that more preparations are being made “for a large protest on January 5.” In response to critics, both within Hungary and across the EU, the leading Fidesz Party countered that the law would allow “those who want to work more to work more, and those who want to earn more to earn more,” the New York Times reports. However, with the Budapest job market presenting few alternative forms of employment, Janos Kollo, a research director of the Institute of Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, comments that many of Hungary’s workers will be obliged to accept requests for overtime in order to secure their employment.

The controversial labor code change increases how much overtime an employee can be asked to work. The hours are nearly doubled, allowing employers to demand their employees work 400 hours overtime, in contrast to the original 250 hours. In addition to the amount of overtime worked, the new law allows for the calculation and payment of the overtime hours to be delayed by up to three years. The new laws, although ensured by the government not to be unconstitutional, pave the way for employers to exploit their workers. Moreover, although the president emphasized that employees would not be penalized for refusing to work the overtime hours, Hungarians are skeptical as fears of unfair dismissal become an increasing concern.

Although passed by President Ader, the country’s nationalist government and Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, have been instigators of growing national discontent. Referencing the country’s labor shortage, with Hungary experiencing one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU at 4.2% (2017), the government guaranteed that the new law would improve the country’s economy. As a universally unsupported law, the protests have united Hungarians from both ends of the political spectrum, with participants waving banners reading statements such as “force your mother to do overtime” and “[w]e’ve had enough.”

As the new year soon approaches, Hungarians say goodbye to 2018 wondering what is in store for their nation in 2019. With sixteen trade unions planning strikes in response to the labor law changes and the nationalist government behaving increasingly undemocratic in parliament, Hungarians from both ends of the political spectrum are becoming increasingly discontent and concerned over the actions of the majority right-wing government. The government must reassess the path its laws and policies are taking and settle fears of an increasingly authoritarian government; until changes are made in favor of the working-class people, Hungary’s government will continue to be frowned upon both domestically and internationally by fellow EU nations.

Zoe Knight