Working conditions lag behind other EU countries

A recently published study gives a comparative overview of working conditions in three countries including Hungary. The study is based on the outcomes of the Belgian, Dutch and Hungarian versions of the web-based working conditions survey known as ‘WageIndicator’. This article outlines the findings from Hungary, compiled by the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions, and highlights specificities compared with the other two countries.

A number of countries maintain a national website, derived from the model of the continuous web-based survey ‘WageIndicator’, which includes information about wages, working conditions, labour standards and other work-related topics. The Hungarian version of WageIndicator is known as Bérbarométer.

A recently published study aims to provide an overview of working conditions in three countries – Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands – based on the results of online and offline questionnaires. The results for Hungary, which refer to 2006 and 2007, were compiled by the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSzOSz). The study sought to explore the following issues: working time (full-time and part-time), telework, overtime, training and stress at work. These factors play an important role in the reconciliation of family life and work.

Working time

Working time is one of the key determinants of working conditions, and is regulated at European, national and sectoral levels. It also plays an important role in debates and negotiations because of the differing interests of employers and employees in this regard.

The most evident indicator of the change of employment structure and the organisation of work is the increase in the rate of part-time work relative to full-time employment. Part-time employment has been assessed as a tool to support market flexibility, reorganise working time, reconcile family life and work, and redistribute existing employment. In 1992, 14% of employees in the European Union worked part time; in 2002, this proportion stood at 18.2%. This result is in sharp contrast to the Hungarian situation: in 1992, atypical work (including part-time work) was almost an unknown category while, by 2002, 2.9% of employees worked part time. Although by 2006 the incidence of part-time work had increased in Hungary, the proportion of part-time workers in the total workforce still lags behind compared with Belgium and the Netherlands, as indicated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Incidence of part-time workers relative to total workforce (%)

Incidence of part-time workers relative to total workforce (%)

Source: Belgium and the Netherlands: WageIndicator dataset (2004–2006), Hungary: Bérbarométer dataset (2006)

Incidence of part-time workers relative to total workforce (%)


Telework is usually defined as a way of organising work using information technology (IT), in the context of an employment contract, where the work is performed away from the company premises. Overall, the proportion of teleworking is very low: about 5% of EU employees have the opportunity to telework. The highest rate of telework in the countries under study is in the Netherlands, with 9% of the workforce performing telework at least one day a week, while the respective figure in Belgium is 7% (Figure 2).

The proportion of teleworkers in Hungary is extremely low (around 2%), although it is slowly increasing (HU0801069I). Over the past few years, telework has attracted the attention of Hungary’s government leaders, business decision makers, employees and entrepreneurs. Relatively extensive media coverage and slowly growing practice have helped towards a better understanding of the importance of telework in Hungary in tackling employment problems.

In terms of gender differences, men tend to carry out telework more frequently than women. Educational level is strongly related to telework: the higher the level of qualification, the more likely employees are to carry out telework.

Figure 2: Workers who perform telework at least one day a week (%)

Workers who perform telework at least one day a week (%)

Source: Belgium and the Netherlands: WageIndicator dataset (2004–2006), Hungary: Bérbarométer dataset (2006)

Workers who perform telework at least one day a week (%)


About 75% of Hungarian women and more than 80% of men in the national sample have to work overtime; indeed, 4.5% of female workers and 5% of male workers do so on a daily basis. Surprisingly, in spite of the high incidence of overtime, approximately 70% of the Hungarian employees responded that they accepted the length of their working time. In Belgium and the Netherlands, between about 50% and 60% of the workers surveyed carry out overtime. The length, compensation for and regulation of overtime is always a subject of debate for the social partners and differs from country to country in the EU.

Participation in training

As part of the Lisbon Strategy, policymakers have set the goal to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. One of its objectives is the transformation of education and training in Europe. At present, the EU invests 1.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in higher education, compared with 3% in the US. 

In the Hungarian Bérbarométer, 22% of the 4,916 respondents stated that they take part in some kind of training and education. This means that the majority (78%) of those surveyed do not participate in any kind of training and education. Among those who take part in training, 59% are women and 41% are men. Thus, women – in spite of their household duties – avail of training opportunities more frequently. Most of the workers who take part in training have completed their secondary education.

Stress at work

Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not meet the capabilities, resources or needs of the employee. Job stress can lead to poor health and injury. To the question ‘Do you find your work stressful?’, 27% of the women surveyed in Hungary and 25% of the men gave a positive answer. In Belgium, 32% of the women and 34% of the men replied in the affirmative to this question. Interestingly, 17% of the Hungarians surveyed never find their job stressful.


Almost 20 years after the political changes in eastern Europe, it is interesting to compare the ‘old’ and ‘new’ EU Member States with regard to different issues, such as working conditions. A misapprehension often arises that the only difference between these countries in this field lies in the wage gap. In fact, as the outcomes of the continuous WageIndicator web survey show, the figures point to similarities in only a few areas.

Máté Komiljovics, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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