Hungarians rally against ‘slave laws’

Budapest, Dec 17 (IANS) | Publish Date: 12/17/2018 12:02:35 PM IST

About 10,000 people have been rallying over the weekend in the Hungarian capital here against new labour laws, which have been labelled “slave laws” by opponents, media reported.

According to the new rules, companies could demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for it for three years, the BBC reported.

The crowds had marched towards parliament and the state TV headquarters, in what was the fourth and largest protest since the laws were passed last week.

Police had to fire tear gas to disperse protesters near the TV station.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the labour reform would benefit workers as well as companies who need to fill a labour shortage.

Sunday’s demonstrations were led by trade unionists and students and the event was dubbed “Happy Xmas Prime Minister”. 

Orban is being seen by his opponents as becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Such demonstrations have been rare in Hungary, where Orban’s policies enjoy widespread support, despite repeated condemnation from other EU nations.

In elections held earlier in 2018, Orban’s Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliament, which he often uses to force his agenda through.

Last week’s vote on Labour laws was particularly contentious. 

Opposition politicians caused chaos in parliament, preventing the Speaker from reaching the podium while blowing whistles to disrupt proceedings. In the end, the law was pushed through. 

That evening, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building, and protests have continued since, the BBC report said.

The labour shortages the government seeks to address with the new law are rooted in long-term trends. Hungary’s population has been in decline for years, as deaths outpace births, according to the European statistics agency. 

Its unemployment rate, at 4.2 per cent in 2017, is one of the lowest in the EU.

Hungary is also experiencing a “brain drain” as well-educated people take advantage of free movement within Europe. 

The problem is serious enough to have prompted a 2015 programme to encourage young people to return home, offering housing and employment support.

The governing Fidesz party has said the protests are the work of foreign mercenaries paid by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, who has denied it saying the Hungarian authorities were using him as a scapegoat.

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