By Ben Chacko
HUNGARIAN MPs approved sweeping attacks on workers’ rights today, passing a Bill denounced as the “slave labour law” by trade unions and the opposition.
The law, introduced by the ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, raises the legal limit on overtime from 250 hours to 400 a year and extends the period management has to settle accrued overtime pay from one to three years.
Unions say the extension will allow bosses to avoid paying premium rates for overtime, as they gain more flexibility to give workers fewer hours than normal at less busy times and then claim the average over three years has been within ordinary hours. Justin Spike, writing in the Budapest Beacon earlier this year, observed that employers would gain greater power to deny employees any time off in busy periods or any work in slack periods.
The unions have held giant protests against the Bill, which Hungarian Confederation of Trade Unions leader Laszlo Kordas said will force workers to do up to 50 days a year overtime. Employers may now legally make overtime arrangements with individual workers outside collective bargaining agreements, and are no longer obliged to consult or negotiate such matters with unions.
Hungary’s Workers Party, as its communist party is known since the term “communist” is banned, joined trade union protests against the law, though Mr Kordas refused to receive a solidarity statement from the party.
The government has been open about the Bill’s origins as a response to specific demands from German car manufacturers that employ workers in Hungary.
Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto said that “most investments in Hungary come from North Rhine-Westphalia. So it is very important that North Rhine-Westphalian companies investing in Hungary have clearly welcomed legislative proposals that further enhance the competitiveness of the country and improve the job market.”
Opposition MPs of both right and left — the fascist Jobbik party opposes the law as do the socialists — blew whistles and sirens to disrupt the Bill, tried to derail it with 2,800 amendments and even occupied the Speaker’s chair in an unsuccessful bid to stop it passing.