Hungarians demonstrate against “slave law” with “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister” protest

Hungarians demonstrate against “slave law” with “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister” protest

An estimated 15,000 people marched through Budapest on Sunday, the fourth day of protests against Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policies. They were marching in opposition of a law that would increase the maximum overtime Hungarian workers can do a year from 250 to 400 hours.

Protesters were carrying trade union banners past hundreds of police, demanding Mr. Orban reverse what has been dubbed by critics, the “slave law.” The extra hours would allow employers to require an extra day of paid overtime a week. 

MPs approved the law change last Wednesday, which demonstrators have denounced, saying the new rules will reduce worker’s rights. 

Protests were also held last week on Wednesday night, Thursday, and Friday, as well as Monday this week, with fewer people in attendance. Other policies were being addressed as well, including a bill that was passed the same day, establishing a separate court for administrative matters. 

There is a shortage of labor in Hungary, as the pool of working adults in the population has been declining. This is seen as a delayed consequence of the transition from communism, as families started having fewer children. 

The government have said the law will help address the problem of the shrinking working population. Instead of bringing in foreign workers, they have scheduled increases to retirement age and have now increased paid overtime, stretching the use of the labor force.

Employers have struggled to find workers for many jobs, for example, Hungary had more doctors per capita at the end of communism than it does now, as medical students leave for wealthier nations with better working conditions.

IZA World of Labor author, Anzelika Zaiceva, discusses post-enlargement EU emigration and the affect it has on labor forces in her article. She notes that “outmigration may amplify labor and skills shortages” particularly in “sectors such as construction and health care,” which appears to be an issue in Hungary. 

Whilst she says that emigration can "contribute to lower unemployment," when economies returned to their pre-financial crisis growth path, "labor shortages and demographic pressures will become more apparent." 

A sociology student in Budapest who attended the march on Sunday said, “Discontent is growing, they have passed two laws this week which…won’t serve Hungarian people’s interest.”

Mr. Orban has passed many controversial laws, as he cements control over courts, universities, nearly all of the country’s media outlets, and the central bank. The EU has called his actions an authoritarian attack on checks-and-balances. 

Civil rights watchdogs said the new law was the latest in a string of laws eroding the democratic institutions in Hungary under the prime minister. 

Sunday’s “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister” protest was a new challenge to Mr. Orban’s authority, as the country’s trade unions, who normally stay silent on Mr. Orban’s crackdowns on media and academia, joined the fight. 

Nearly all of Hungary’s political parties have rejected replenishing the labor force with foreign workers, and Mr. Orban has won multiple elections due to his vocal opposition of immigration. 

The ruling Fidesz party accused criminals and the Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros of organizing what they have described as “street riots.” 

Read more about how migration policy affects the labor market here.