Government supports working time reduction

In November 2002, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Péter Medgyessy, announced that the government supports the demands of trade unions to reduce statutory normal weekly working time gradually from 40 to 38 hours in the current parliamentary term. Negotiations over working time cuts will now be held in the tripartite National Interest Reconciliation Council, despite employers' misgivings.

The reduction of working time is increasingly becoming a central bargaining demand for Hungarian trade unions at national level. Regular weekly working time is a central issue in the current round of tripartite negotiations over increases in the national minimum wage (HU0207102F) and recommendations for the annual wage increase for 2003. In exchange for making concessions to the employers’ side in the area of wage increases, unions have demanded the reduction of statutory normal weekly working time from 40 hours to 39.5 hours in 2003, and to 38 hours by 2006.

In Hungary, regular working time is virtually regulated by the Labour Code, as it is rarely an issue for sectoral or company-level collective agreements. The 40-hour statutory working week has not changed since 1992, though a minor decrease in annual working time took place in the 1990s due to the introduction of new bank holidays. An amendment of the Labour Code's working time provisions depends on the willingness of the governing coalition parties. Although the election programme of Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt, MSZP), now the major party in the government, had made promises concerning the reduction of working time (HU0206101F), until now the government had remained silent on this issue.

However, at the fifth congress of the National Association of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSZOSZ), held on 22 and 23 November 2002 (HU0212101N), Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy announced that the government supports the demands of the unions to reduce weekly working time gradually to 38 hours in the current parliamentary term.

While the Prime Minister's announcement was welcomed by trade unions, employers expressed their misgivings concerning the working time reduction. The president of the Confederation of Hungarian Employers and Industrialists (Munkaadók és Gyáriparosok Országos Szövetsége, MGYOSZ), the major employers’ association, cautioned that a working time reduction in the midst of a recession could have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the Hungarian economy and could delay the recovery of industries in crisis. The vice-president of MGYOSZ, who is a regular negotiator for the employers in the tripartite National Interest Reconciliation Council (Országos Érdekegyeztetó Tanács, OÉT) (HU0209101N), warned that the reduction of working time would not only increase labour costs, but also would practically result in a 5% decrease of GDP, which would eventually undermine the government's long-term economic development programme.

The Alliance of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége, FIDESZ), the major opposition party, expressed its opinion that working time reduction should be an issue to be agreed on by employers’ organisations and trade unions, taking into account the impact on employment and wages, and such issues should not be exposed to short-term propaganda interests of political parties.

Following the declaration of the Prime Minister, at a meeting of the National Interest Reconciliation Council on 29 November 2002 it was agreed that the national tripartite body will launch negotiations on the reduction of working time with a view to reaching agreement by June 2003.

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