MSZOSZ congress launches major structural reform

At its fifth congress, held in November 2002, the National Association of Hungarian Trade Unions (MSZOSZ) sought to end a period of lack of strategic focus and decided to develop a new organisational structure which will enable it to tackle the challenges of forthcoming EU membership and the accompanying efforts to strengthen social dialogue in Hungary. MSZOSZ also elected a new leadership team and called for pay increases and working time cuts.

The National Association of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSZOSZ), one of the major Hungarian trade union confederations, held its fifth congress on 22 and 23 November 2002 in Budapest. The congress aimed to end a period of lack of strategic focus and decided to develop a new organisational structure which will enable it to tackle the challenges of forthcoming EU membership and the accompanying efforts to strengthen social dialogue across the Hungarian economy.

MSZOSZ has weathered a very difficult period in the last four years. The previous right-wing government had pursued a policy which explicitly sought to undermine the 'neo-corporatist' edifice of tripartism, and implemented a number of amendments to the Labour Code, which unions denounced as anti-union measures (HU0206101F). The fragmented and politically divided Hungarian trade union movement, however, was not able to develop a unified front to safeguard its positions, save for a few rather symbolic actions. MSZOSZ was hit especially hard during this period, aggravating the problems suffered in the early 1990s. It suffered further membership losses (HU0206102N), and a consequent drop in membership fees undermined the confederation’s budget. It was forced to sell its headquarters office building and reduce its staff, further weakening the regional base of its organisation. Moreover, it was not able to implement a number of important resolutions of its fourth congress in 1998 concerning the internal consolidation of its fragmented structure. On top of this, a leadership crisis led to the resignation of MSZOSZ's elected president early in 2002.

The strategic task of the fifth congress was to overcome the leadership crisis, develop a viable strategy and encourage a reform of the confederation's internal structure to enable it to tackle forthcoming challenges. The old, confused decision-making mechanism has now been replaced by a new, transparent structure relying on six newly founded clusters of sectoral federations.

The congress put an end to the leadership crisis. It elected Tamás Wittich, the former vice-president of the confederation and president of the Clothing Workers’ Union (Ruházati Dolgozók Szakszervezete, RDSZ), as president of MSZOSZ. László Kordás, the president of the Federation of Young Trade Unionists (Szakszervezeti Ifjúsági Szövetség, SZISZ) has become vice-president. The election of Mr Wittich has been widely acclaimed. He had been representing MSZOSZ in the national tripartite forum (HU0209101N) since being elected vice-president. Mr Wittich is known to be an expert in both macroeconomic issues and matters emerging in collective bargaining, as well as an experienced and calculated negotiating partner.

The political conditions are now are extremely favourable for MSZOSZ. The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt, MSZP), the current major governing party, enjoyed the political support of the main sectoral member organisations of MSZOSZ during the 2002 election campaign. MSZP is determined to carry through a social democratic-style government strategy, which includes the aim of closing the gap in social standards between Hungary and the current EU Member States. It envisages implementing this programme through a strengthened institutional framework for social dialogue.

The November MSZOSZ congress demanded that the National Development Plan, currently under preparation, should target meeting European social standards and fighting discrimination of any kind. The congress demanded:

  • a 33% increase in real wages in the current parliamentary term;
  • an increase of the value of the minimum wage to reach 60% of the average net wage;
  • the creation of 350,000 to 400,000 jobs in the next two years;
  • a cut in weekly working hours from 40 to 38 hours within three years (HU0212102N), beginning immediately with a half- hour reduction in 2003; and
  • measures to combat discrimination.

MSZOSZ also proposes a major extension of the social dialogue, especially at the sectoral level. Furthermore, it urges that sectoral collective agreements should play a major role in regulating wages, terms and conditions of employment, covering 80%-90% of employees. MSZOSZ calls for the implementation of government measures to facilitate the conclusion of local collective agreements. It proposes strengthening the existing labour inspectorates and to extend their capacities. The confederation demands the re-establishment of the supervisory role of the social partners over social security funds, which was abolished under the previous right wing government. Moreover, MSZOSZ wants to have a say in employment policy, especially in the implementation of the policy of life-long learning.

Finally, in a declaration the congress called for the creation of coordinated cooperation among Hungarian trade unions and proposed that debates over the past be closed. The newly elected president, however, reiterated a proposal that the voting weight of each confederation in tripartite bodies should be in line with their representativeness, as opposed to the current practice whereby each confederation has one vote. The proposal was immediately criticised by the president of the National Federation of Workers’ Councils (Munkástanácsok Országos Szövetsége, MOSZ), one of Hungary's smaller union confederations.

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