Hungary: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019

Changes in working conditions for researchers following the reorganisation of the national science academy, continued difficulties in organising strikes in the public sector and a potential lawsuit about the right to unionise at a car manufacturer are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Hungary in the second quarter of 2019.

Fears that new science academy law could lead to brain drain

The Hungarian parliament passed a bill in July 2019 that removes the 15 research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) from the budgetary purview of the academy and places them under the control of a new organisation called the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH). The bill, which passed with 131 votes in favour and 53 against amid street protests, [1] comes after a year of negotiations over what the scientific community labels as a threat to academic independence in Hungary. The ensuing public debate highlighted that researchers feel that their right to autonomous working conditions is being threatened, and that the emigration of highly trained and qualified people from Hungary is likely to be one of the consequences of the bill. [2]

Submitted by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, the bill aims to reform the academy's operations in order to boost competitiveness, innovation and the effectiveness of applied research. Another debated element of the bill, set to come into force in September 2019, is that the ELKH will have the right to use Academy property free of charge. ‘The final draft [of the bill] disregarded all of the Academy's suggested changes,’ MTA chairperson László Lovász said, adding that they would challenge it in constitutional court. [3]

The bill follows an announcement in December 2018 that the Central European University would be relocating from Budapest to Vienna from September 2019. It is feared that this move, combined with the new bill, will take a toll on Hungary's research community of about 3,000–5,000 workers.

It is unknown how many other institutions could be merged or closed, or how many jobs lost, because of the new bill. The conservative Batthyány Society of Professors denied the changes were detrimental and said scientists can still do research, but they ‘must find funding for it’. According to the society's chairman, the government should have a say in the kind of research it finances. [4]

At the end of May, the Democratic Confederation of Free Trade Unions (LIGA) released an open letter in protest against the bill, saying that changes should only come after dialogue with social partners. The Trade Union of Employees in Higher Education (FDSZ) issued a statement expressing its solidarity with academy employees and calling on the government to engage in dialogue over employee rights. [5]

Education union clashes with government

A national strike by teachers, which was planned for 29 May, was cancelled by the Teachers Democratic Trade Union (PDSZ) after the union and the government were unable to reach an agreement on the minimum services that teachers had to provide during the strike. The PDSZ accused the government of hindering the talks and said that without such an agreement, the strike would not have been legal. Head of the PDSZ Tamás Szűcs added that if legal barriers and ‘government tactics’ continued to prevent them from holding a strike at home, they would turn to the European Court of Human Rights. [6]

The Teachers Trade Union (PSZ) had previously maintained a more collaborative stance toward the government, but said it was also disillusioned and would consider a strike in September. Head of the PSZ Zsuzsanna Szabó said that the government had promised to consult the PSZ about changes to education laws as part of an agreement signed in March, but had failed to do so. The demands of the unions include a wage rise, fewer hours and fewer extracurricular responsibilities. [7]

Dispute with Magyar Suzuki over union rights ends in court

The Hungarian Metalworkers’ Federation (Vasas) turned to court after attempts to negotiate with carmaker Magyar Suzuki (based in Esztergom) came to a standstill. [8] At the same time, the company consulted with a works council over a wage rise of 18% for 2019. [9]

Zoltán László, the leader of Vasas, claimed that Magyar Suzuki breached Hungarian labour laws when it prevented employees at the plant from forming a union and fired a father-of-two in the process. The employer argued that there was insufficient demand for a union, but the trade union disputes this.

At the end of May, Vasas organised a road block near the factory in protest over its representatives being denied entry to the building for talks. Vasas says 300 Suzuki employees are members of the newly-formed union. Magyar Suzuki’s management finally agreed to meet with union representatives in June, but the meeting yielded few results.

Commentary

Unions had been threatening a general strike over the unpopular overtime law, in a bid to pressurise the government into withdrawing it. However, the strike action gradually lost momentum in the second quarter of 2019 after the unions realised that they had insufficient support for an all-out conflict.

In the public sector, the government implemented a substantial change to the working conditions of public sector researches despite widespread discontent among employees. The government also blocked strike attempts in the education sector. Extensive public debate followed, with a number of researchers announcing their relocation plans. There is now a risk that more staff from the education sector and other public sector areas will also choose to relocate, in response to being unable to express their grievances through strikes.

Beyond the Magyar Suzuki case, a few other conflicts occurred in the private sector. In addition, recent research shows a modest but stable increase in interest in trade unions in Hungary, especially among young people. [10]

 


Footnotes

  1. ^ ATV (2019), Szakszervezeti demonstrációt tartottak Budapesten , 22 January.
  2. ^ The Guardian (2019), Hungary eyes science research as latest target for state control , 13 June.
  3. ^ Népszava (2019), Lovász László: Az MTA nem tud Bécsbe költözni , 12 June.
  4. ^ Klub Rádió (2019), Mégis a pénzről szól az MTA beszántása , 7 July.
  5. ^ Szakszervezete.hu (2019), A Felsőoktatási Dolgozók Szakszervezetének (FDSZ) Küldöttgyűlése támogatásáról biztosítja az akadémiai dolgozókat , 30 May.
  6. ^ Eduline (2019), Elmarad a május 29-i pedagógussztrájk: nem jöttek létre a jogszerű feltételek , 27 May.
  7. ^ Népszava (2019), Felrúgta a Pedagógusok Szakszervezetével kötött megállapodást a kormány – nem vált be a kulturált emberek módszere , 13 June.
  8. ^ Népszava (2019), Szakszervezeti csiki-csuki a Suzukinál , 24 June.
  9. ^ Portfolio (2019), Megállapodtak: 18 százalékos béremelés a Suzukinál , 22 February.
  10. ^ Kunert, A. and Kiss, N. (2019), Szakszervezeti trendforduló a láthatáron Új Egyenlőség, 7 July.

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