No agreement on reduction of statutory working time

In November 2002, it was agreed that Hungary's tripartite National Interest Reconciliation Council (OÉT) would launch negotiations on the reduction of working time, with a view to reaching an agreement by June 2003. However, by the time of the meeting of the OÉT held on 25 June no decision had been reached on the trade unions' demands for statutory reduction of working time, and negotiations appear to have been postponed for now.

The reduction of working time has become a central bargaining demand for Hungarian trade unions at national level in recent years. In Hungary, regular working time is regulated virtually solely by the Labour Code, as its reduction 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 owing to the introduction of new public holidays. Although the 2002 election programme of the Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt,MSZP), now the major party in the coalition government, made promises concerning the reduction of working time (HU0206101F), until now the government has not acted on this issue.

The working issue also emerged in 2002 in the tripartite negotiations in the National Interest Reconciliation Council (Országos Érdekegyeztető Tanács,OÉT) (HU0209101N) over increases in the national minimum wage and recommendations for the annual wage increase for 2003. In exchange for making concessions on wage increases, unions demanded the reduction of statutory normal weekly working time from 40 hours to 39.5 hours in 2003 and to 38 hours by 2006. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, speaking at the fifth congress of the National Association of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége,MSZOSZ) in November 2002 (HU0212102N), expressed his support for this demand by the unions. Finally, at a meeting of the OÉT on 29 November 2002 it was agreed that the national tripartite body would launch negotiations on the reduction of working time with a view to reaching agreement by June 2003.

The negotiations began in late April 2003. The Ministry of Employment and Labour (Foglalkoztatáspolitikai és Munkaügyi Minisztérium,FMM) was in charge of drawing up a proposal to serve as a basis for the subsequent negotiations in the OÉT. Trade unions made public their demands in detail. They proposed a one-hour weekly reduction, from 1 January 2004 and a subsequent one-hour reduction to 38 hours. MSZOSZ also announced that it would propose the statutory inclusion of the daily 20-minute meal-break in weekly paid working time, something which is currently only an option that may be stipulated in collective agreements. It also proposed to declare 24 December a public holiday. Reportedly, the employers’ side on the OÉT expressed its readiness to negotiate over declaring Christmas Eve a public holiday. Nonetheless, in their press releases the president and vice-president of the Confederation of Hungarian Employers and Industrialists (Munkaadók és Gyáriparosok Országos Szövetsége,MGYOSZ) rejected the unions' proposal for a statutory reduction of working time. They argued that recent real wage increases have already considerably weakened the competitiveness of companies and that they would not be able to bear the costs of a reduction in working hours. Nonetheless, they said that voluntary working time reduction should be an issue for collective bargaining at company level, where management and local unions could adjust working time flexibly to the competitive position of the particular undertaking.

The issue of working time reduction was put on the agenda of the meeting of the OÉT on 25 June 2003. The unions demanded an amendment of the Labour Code in line with their abovementioned demands. The employers’ side, however, rejected the proposal and repeated that this was not the appropriate time to discuss the issue, given the state of the national economy and the weakening competitiveness of Hungarian companies. The unions, faced with all-out rejection by the employers, suggested to the government that it should launch bipartite negotiations between the unions and the government concerning an amendment to the Labour Code. The government, however, ruled out any bipartite decision-making, which would undermine the tripartite working practice of the OÉT. Nonetheless, it requested the employers’ organisations to carry out thorough research in order to assess the expected costs and possible advantages of a statutory working time reduction. Following this proposal by the government, the negotiations over working time reduction have been practically postponed. It would not be a surprise, however, if the issue emerges again in the forthcoming negotiations in the OÉT on the national minimum wage and recommended annual wage increase for 2004.

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