Industrial relations

Hungary: Latest developments in working life Q3 2019

Growing industrial unrest in the social services, healthcare and education sectors, an increase in redundancies for temporary workers; and the extension of a collective agreement in the electricity sector are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Hungary in the third quarter of 2019.

Social sector plan strike action

The Trade Union of Hungarian Civil Servants and Public Employees (MKKSZ) and the Union of Workers in the Social Sector (SZÁD) have been planning a ‘social sector’ strike [1] following the government’s failure to meet union demands in March 2019.

A strike by the two unions was postponed in March because the Ministry of Human Capacities (EMMI) agreed to create the legal conditions to implement a collective bargaining agreement (by 30 April) and to compile a wage-rise package spanning several years (by 30 June). The unions claim that neither promise was kept. They have therefore turned to the administrative and labour courts, asking for a ruling that would allow them to continue the postponed strike on the grounds that the government has been unresponsive. The proposed date for the strike action is 10 October and the request filed with the courts includes proposals for meeting the compulsory minimum level of services they need to provide to be able to go on strike.

Wages and retirement age under debate in healthcare sector

The Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) reported that 97% of its more than 5,000 members agreed that wages in the sector should be raised immediately and that age discrimination against doctors should stop. Currently, doctors working in the public sector must submit a request if they want to work after reaching pension age (65). These requests often take many months to process and doctors will often work without receiving proper pay in the meantime.

In protest over this and other concerns like low wages in the sector, doctors are willing to terminate their voluntary overtime work agreements (i.e. they would refuse any overtime beyond the basic 40-hour week). Such a move has the potential to put a huge strain on the healthcare system.

In July, the government implemented an 8% wage rise for qualified health workers (excluding doctors). The Independent Trade Union of Healthcare (FESZ) says the calculation used for the rise included overtime. In addition, FESZ says the percentage would have been much lower if only base salaries were used in the calculation. FESZ noted that the wage rise came after nine years of no increases and that, even with the rise, nurses are still only earning HUF 1,000–1,500 (€3.0–4.5 as at 8 November 2019) an hour.

Dentists held a two-week partial strike in August, where they only attended to emergency cases, to draw attention to underfinancing in the sector. [2]

Amendments to Public Education Act sparks union response

In the public education sector, many teachers, parents and civil groups, including a number of unions, had a negative reaction to the new amendments to Hungarian public education laws passed by parliament in July. The amendments curtail the rights of schools that follow non-traditional curricula (referred to as alternative schools) and removes the right of parents to decide if a child is ready to start school at the age of six (under the new law, a six-year old child can only be kept out of school for well-proven medical reasons).

The Trade Union of Teachers (PSZ) met in September and decided to press for better wages and a lighter workload for teachers (and students), as well as the restoration of the earlier freedom that teachers had to choose textbooks and teaching methods.

Labour shortage easing in some sectors

While labour shortages continue to be a problem in Hungary, some sectors have begun to report the opposite trend. The manufacturing sector saw layoffs in April, while there were further redundancies in the automotive, machinery and metallurgy sectors in July. The Hungarian Metalworkers' Federation (Vasas) expressed concern over these developments [3] which have particularly affected temporary workers as fewer temporary contracts are being converted into full-time positions. A unionist suggested that the redundancies could be the result of a drop in orders in the sectors, underpinned by a general fear of a future recession in several parts of the economy. A lack of technology upgrades is another reason why companies are forced to dismiss employees.

The summer months also saw a slight drop in the traditionally high levels of seasonal employment in the agriculture and tourism sectors, although atypical work by students and pensioners rose in January–August compared with the same period in 2018. After a drop in job vacancies in the business sector in the first and second quarters of 2019 (according to official statistics), analysts are expecting the labour shortage to ease in the third quarter in certain sectors. At the same time, almost all areas of the public sector are still experiencing extensive labour shortages.

Collective agreement extended in electricity sector

A wage and social agreement signed by partners in the European sector social dialogue committee for the electricity subsector was extended on 20 September 2019. [4] The members of the committee are the Federation of Electricity Companies (VTMSZ) on the employer side, and the Federation of Trade Unions in the Electric Energy Industry (EVDSZ) and the Trade Union of Mine, Energy and Industry Workers (BDSZ) on the employee side. The extension contained wage agreements for 2019, which were signed by the social partners in February 2019.

While the extension was a positive development, trade unionists questioned why it took so long to be granted. The social partners reported that providing all of the requested documents to the Ministry of Finance took about two months and assessing the representativeness of the actors involved took a further two months.

Outlook

Industrial unrest has been increasing in the second and third quarters of 2019 following unmet demands, and may lead to strike action in the fourth quarter. Social services unions have planned a strike for 10 October, while teachers have proposed a public education demonstration on 22 November and a nationwide education strike in January 2020. The refusal of doctors to work overtime can also be considered a type of industrial action.

In addition, analysts are warning about the possibility of a recession and an overspill from the economic slowdown in Germany. This could result in labour demand turning into job losses in certain parts of the economy before the end of 2019.


Footnotes

  1. ^ Népszava (2019), Elfogyott a türelem: országos szociális sztrájk lesz október 10-én , 20 September.
  2. ^ Szakszervezetek (2019), A fogorvosok sztrájkja alatt sok rendszerhibára derült fény , 16 September.
  3. ^ Klubradio (2019), Feltűnően sok embert rúgtak ki , 26 July.
  4. ^ Liganet (2019), Kiterjesztett villamosenergia-ipari megállapodás , 1 October.

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