High levels of employment discrimination against Roma population

It is estimated that 6%–7% of the Hungarian population are Roma, whose employment rate significantly lags behind the respective indicators of the non-Roma population. A complex set of factors lies behind the exclusion of the Roma population from the labour market, including a generally low level of education, regional segregation, effects of the economic transition and discrimination by employers, which many studies have highlighted.

According to a representative survey carried out in 2003, 38% of Roma men and 20% of Roma women in Hungary were employed (Kertesi, 2005). It is estimated that 6%–7% of the Hungarian population are Roma, and their employment rate significantly lags behind the respective indicators of the non-Roma population. Roma employment is also characterised by a high level of fluctuation, suggesting considerable job instability. This is further reinforced by community employment programmes, providing employment for several months only – thus perpetuating a cyclical and unstable lifestyle for those affected.

Examining employer preferences

A number of studies have explored the existence and prevalence of discrimination against Roma in the labour market, using a variety of methods (HU0708019I). Experts, however, draw attention to the need to separate out the factors behind employers’ preferences towards various employee groups in the labour market which are not related to their productivity.

A study carried out by Delphoi Consulting in 2006 sought to explore employers’ attitudes towards workers with a disadvantaged background, especially Roma employees (Babusik, 2008). Researchers set out to identify the reasons behind the preferences that employers display. An additional goal was to highlight the pattern of allocating human resource (HR) subsidies in relation to discriminatory employment practices.

About the study

The study sample included 1,829 Hungarian companies employing more than 10 workers located in 431 settlements of the country. One-to-one interviews were conducted with company representatives. Except for those in one county, the sample is representative of Hungarian enterprises according to size and economic sector.

The researchers aimed to draw up a typology of enterprises based on their attitudes towards the workforce: heads of companies were asked to assess characteristics related to employees, to reflect on the values that they hold and to determine the extent to which the workforce corresponds to these principles. Cluster analysis was then carried out, as a result of which employer categories emerged reflecting particular attitudes towards their employees: for example, whether they consider it important to invest in the workforce or not, whether they believe that workers should be able to bear a heavy workload, whether more importance is attached to the quality of the workforce or whether employees’ wage demands matter most. The researchers found that such managerial attitudes define the structure and composition of the workforce, and that employers’ attitudes are affected by the economic sector in which an enterprise operates.

Attitudes toward Roma employees

The same method was used to assess attitudes towards Roma employees: employers were asked to state for various groups of workers – including Roma – the extent to which various characteristics were applicable, such as stability, special skills, team spirit, loyalty, responsibility, discipline, or greater or lower than average wage demands. With regard to attitudes towards Roma employees, the following four employer groups were identified.

  • Employers with rejecting attitudes (6.8%) associated work values with Roma employees only to a small degree.
  • Employers displaying racist attitudes (27%) dismissed all employee values in relation to Roma.
  • ‘Tolerant’ employers (7%) attached positive values to Roma employees but believed, for example, that Roma are not capable of running an enterprise.
  • The majority of employers declined to answer (59.2%).

However, the attitudes expressed are not always reflected in actual employment figures; for instance, some employers who displayed negative attitudes have Roma employees. Nevertheless, the majority of employers hire few Roma and they affirm that they would not like to do so. This negative attitude was expressed with regard to both blue-collar jobs and more so for white-collar positions – even if the Roma candidate’s qualifications were suitable for the job. Companies do not employ Roma people in managerial positions even if they have a higher education degree.

Attitudes towards employing disadvantaged groups

The following attitudes were identified among employers based on the actual level of employment of a number of disadvantaged groups (see figure).

  • Deep discrimination (22% of all employers) – enterprises in this category hardly ever employ poor people, Roma, persons starting their career or people with disabilities, especially if they have small children. These companies are reluctant to employ Roma workers regardless of their qualifications.
  • Mild rejection (6.8%) – companies in this category recruit from any employee group, except people with disabilities. Half of the ‘mildly rejecting’ companies do not tend to employ Roma workers without any qualifications, which may be due to legitimate higher requirements for the jobs on offer. Three quarters of these companies hire Roma employees with higher education degrees.
  • Full acceptance (37.7%) – enterprises in this category recruit from all kinds of employee groups of disadvantaged background.
  • Discrimination against women, Roma and people with disabilities (9.2%) – this category is similar to the first one, the difference being the extent to which the companies are discriminatory. For example, only 1.8% of the first group have Roma employees, while 25.6% of this group are willing to hire such workers.
  • Discrimination against people with a disadvantaged background (20.9%) – the grounds of discrimination in this case are ethnicity, social status and disability, but not gender. While 40% of these employers tend not to employ workers whose economic status is low, only 3%–10% of them are willing to employ Roma people if they are skilled workers, have passed high school final examinations or have completed higher education studies.
  • Discrimination against young people and women (3.3%) – young women are rarely employed by this category of employers. If the female employee is Roma, then it is almost certain that she will not be employed by companies in this category.

Employer clusters based on HR practices (%)

Employer clusters based on HR practices (%)

Employer clusters based on HR practices (%)

Source: Babusik, 2006

Looking at the reasons for declining to employ Roma workers, the researchers highlighted the values which employers associate with Roma workers, as well as the value system that they attach to their workforce. The economic sector of the company is also important in this respect: for example, the fact that an enterprise operates in the financial intermediation sector strongly correlates with a discriminatory attitude. On the other hand, if an establishment operates in the sectors of education and healthcare, then it is less likely that the enterprise would display deep discrimination. Company size also affects the attitudes towards employees from vulnerable groups: the larger the company, the less discriminating it is in general.

Access to subsidies

The study found no relationship between the HR practices of companies and policies of applying for subsidies. Enterprises displaying deeply discriminatory attitudes which do not employ people with a disadvantaged background received an average level of subsidies, including grants for HR development or job retention. In fact, companies displaying an attitude of full acceptance received somewhat less than the average. Based on the observation that companies displaying various levels of discriminatory HR practices had access to active labour market tools to the same degree as non-discriminating enterprises, the researchers have called for a reassessment of the criteria for granting subsidies.


A complex set of factors lies behind the exclusion of the Roma population from the labour market, including a generally low level of education, regional segregation and the effects of the economic transition. The high level of employer discrimination towards hiring Roma, however, is a further significant concern.


Babusik, F., A romák foglalkozatási diszkriminációja a munkaerő-piacon. Egy empirikus vállalatkutatás eredményei (243Kb PDF) [Labour market discrimination of Roma. Results from an empirical study of enterprises], Budapest, Delphoi Consulting, 2008.

Kertesi, G., ‘Roma foglalkoztatás az ezredfordulón. A rendszerváltás maradandó sokkja’ [The employment of Roma at the end of the 20th century], Szociológiai Szemle, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2005, pp. 57–87.

Orsolya Polyacskó, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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