A series of reforms passed in Hungary is being called the “slave” labor law and sparking thousands to protest.

Thousands of people gathered for five consecutive days of protest in Budapest last week to protest a series of government reforms packaged into what oppositionists call a “slave” labor law. Hungary’s parliament approved the law on December 12, sparking outrage and protests.

Labor Without Compensation?

The slave labor law allows employers to require their employees to work up to 400 hours of overtime each year, and to take up to three years to pay for it, hence the accusations of slave labor.

The governing party, Fidesz, disputes the slave labor comparisons claiming the reforms had been “heavily distorted by the opposition,” as Gyorgy Schopflin, a Fidesz MEP, told BBC. He added that employees would be “paid monthly, not in three years,” and that there was “no coercion” involved with overtime.

Hungarian President Janos Ader has also stated that employees must give written consent and wouldn’t be penalized for refusing extra hours.

Mass Protests

Last Sunday, confrontations between protesters and police turned violent when police used tear gas on protestors and protestors threw smoke bombs at the police. About 15,000 people had gathered for the Sunday protest which ended at Parliament Square to chants of, “Orban get lost!” Viktor Orban is Hungary’s current Prime Minister.

The protests are reportedly led by labor unions and opposition political party leaders. The BBC reported that 16 trade unions are planning strikes as a result of the new law.

In another protest, about a dozen Hungarian MPs (Members of Parliament) spent the night at Hungary’s main news channel attempting to broadcast a petition against the slave labor measures on state TV but were kicked out of the station.

Independent MPs Bernadette Szel and Akos Hadhazy were forced out of the building after trying to maneuver around guards. Szel live-streamed the encounter on Facebook.

What Sparked Hungary’s Slave Labor Law?

Before the bill passed, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, “We have to remove bureaucratic rules so that those who want to work and earn more can do so.” He affirmed that the new labor law will benefit both employees and organizations alike, allowing companies to “fill a labor shortage.”

Previously, Hungarian companies could ask for up to 250 hours of overtime each year. This is the equivalent of 50 extra days per year, one extra day per week, or an extra hour each day.

In 2017 Hungary’s unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, one of the lowest in the EU. According to the New York Times, the low birth rate has contributed to the population’s decline. For these reasons and others, the government is pushing economic and labor reforms.

Also proceeding in parliament is another method to put “administrative judges” in place of the courts. For many proceedings, the judges, designated by the president’s justice minister, would govern without judicial oversight.

 

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