Protests as Hungarian parliament passes ‘slave law’ on overtime

Controversial amendment to labour laws approved, trade unions and opponents call it a ‘slave law’.

Protests in Hungary
Trade unions and their supporters protest against the government move in Budapest [Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

Budapest, Hungary – Thousands of Hungarians have taken to the streets of capital, Budapest, to protest several measures adopted by the parliament, including a controversial amendment to labour laws.

The demonstrations on Wednesday, which began in front of the Hungarian parliament, spread through the city, stopping traffic in some of the city’s busiest areas and reaching the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party.

The demonstrators belonging to various trade unions held Hungarian and European Union flags and chanted “Free country” as they marched.


The protest came in response to the parliament’s approval of amendment to the labour laws, proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing party.

Critics slammed the proposed legislation as a slave law” that benefits employers. They also protested the creation of a new administrative court system, allowing the justice minister to appoint judges who would hear matters relating to voting, corruption and the right to protest.

Controversial amendment

Earlier, during the voting on the amendment in parliament, members of Hungary‘s opposition parties resorted to whistling and blocking the speaker’s podium in an attempt to prevent the controversial changes.

However, the rare scenes of chaos in parliament could not prevent the amendment, which was passed by a 130-52 vote secured by the ruling, right-wing Fidesz party.

The amendment, proposed last month, hikes the maximum annual overtime hours that employers can require from 250 to 400 hours. It also triples the time period for calculating overtime payments to three years.

Fidesz, which in April won a two-thirds majority with 49 percent of the vote, often steamrolls bills through parliament. 

Trade unions expressed concern over the changes to the labour law, which also allows employers to agree on overtime arrangements directly with workers and enter into negotiations or bargaining agreements without having to include the unions.

The government says the measures are meant to help ease Hungary’s employment shortage. It  argues the changes will benefit both those wanting to work more hours and employers who need more manpower. 

Hungary’s official unemployment rate is a low 3.7 percent as companies expand operations in the country, thanks in part to low taxes and wages.

Workers, opposition groups protest 

Opposition parties said the vote was invalid on procedural grounds and the far-right Jobbik party said it would hold a protest later on Wednesday asking Hungarian President Janos Ader to refrain from signing the amendments into law.

Orban was seen smiling and laughing as the rare chaos unfolded in parliament. A Hungarian government spokesman later said the protest by the opposition was “shameful”.

Gabor Guzslovan, a member of the Hungarian Steel Workers trade union, told Al Jazeera that he had “never seen” the kind of  “obstruction and complete chaos” that occurred in the parliament.

Before the voting, protesters gathered at the Kossuth Lajos Square, the seat of the Hungarian parliament, to demonstrate against the changes to the labour law.

Last weekend, trade unions and student groups angry over alleged lack of academic freedom in the country protested against the changes to the labour law in Budapest, raising slogans and blocking highways.

Attila Vajnai, a left-wing activist and representative of the European Left party, told Al Jazeera that “trade unions and leftist parties have expressed their solidarity with Hungarian workers” over the amendments.

The protests in Budapest appeared to be organic on Wednesday evening, with Hungarians demonstrators as they marched through the city. 

Various trade unions protesting in Kossuth Lajos Square called on workers to go on strike on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera