‘Slave law’ in Hungary sparks protests over increasing yearly overtime hours to 400

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By Geena DeMaio
Hungarians protest in December new labor law that increases overtime work to 400 hours a year.

Adjustments to the Hungarian labor law code in December 2018 ignited controversy and protests as an estimated 15,000 people went out in the streets of Budapest despite harsh winds and freezing temperatures in opposition to what is referred as the “slave law,” reported by Shaun Walker of The Guardian.  Two BYU-Hawaii students and an alumnae from Hungary said they are concerned about the government and said their families could be negatively affected by the new labor law.

The change allows businesses to require employees to work up to 400 hours of overtime each year and gave employers three years to pay employees for those overtime hours, reports The New York Times. Called the “slave law” by opponents to the code change, previously employees could legally be required to work 250 overtime hours each year and employers had up to a year to pay employees their overtime wages, the NYT says.

Saying the law will affect her relatives, Betina Gonzalez, a BYU-Hawaii alumnae from Hungary, said, “I have an aunt who will be affected by it. She said she has already been working six days a week at a tobacco factory. The difference now is her overtime will be paid three years later. So, she is worried a lot of her overtime will not be accounted for properly and will never get paid for it.”

Reka Bordás-Simons, a senior from Hungary majoring in peacebuilding and psychology, said her father owns a business so the law will not directly affect him. However, she said her mother is a medical doctor and the law may apply in her work when implemented. Gonzalez said the law also affects those working in a factory or working in seasonal labor such as those in the fields during the summer.

The government needs Hungarians to accept longer hours because the country is running out of workers, reports the NYT, adding “as many as 350,000 Hungarians, or more than 5 percent of the country’s working-age population, are working in another part of the European Union. It also says while the government claims working overtime in optional, workers are often at the mercy of their employers.

In response to critics, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the law is intended for employees who seek to work more. Yet Janos Kollo, research director of the Institute of Economics at the Hungary Academy of Science, said this amendment to the Hungarian labor code incites perpetual dependence of workers on their employers. Kollo said, “There are hundreds of thousands of workers who are not in a position to say no.”

Workers whom refuse the additional labor risk their careers and livelihood, according to labor unions across the nation.

“People in Hungary see many injustices economically. Salaries are lower compared to other countries in the European Union,” said Reka Bordás-Simons. “The government in Hungary is going in a very authoritarian and corrupt direction. It tries to satisfy the wishes of big multinational companies instead of focusing on the needs of the people,” she added.

In his article, Walker reported labor organizations planned more protests and are considering a possible worker’s strike against Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalist government.

“Resistance of this law is also resistance of the current government. The prime minister has been in office for a long time,” shared Réka Bordás-Simon. “People protest because there are injustices occurring and they want change in the government.”

According to Reka Bordas-Simon, Orbán’s party seized two thirds of Parliament's votes resulting in the controversial legislation.

Istaván Bordás, a senior from Hungary, majoring in hospitality tourism management, said, “Many people are frustrated with Orbán and corruption is high. When they passed this law, the other parties stood against him.” The Guardian Weekly reports, “Opposition MPs whistled, jeered and sounded sirens in Parliament, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block the passing of the law.”

Istaván Bordás-Simons said, “I also fear this, as with many other decisions of the government, will have a negative effect on Hungarians. There are also some harmful and destructive ideologies ruling the country right now, many perpetuated by the government.”


Date Published: 
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, February 5, 2019