Inequality and discrimination in employment

Although nobody contests the principle of equal treatment in Hungary, its implementation in the workplace seems to be imperfect at best. Recent data reveal that in Hungary women and older people suffer the most cases of discrimination at work; however, discrimination against Roma, as well as people with disabilities, seems to be most entrenched.

The Act on equal treatment and promotion of equal opportunities No. 125 of 2003 (183Kb PDF) entered into force on 27 January 2004. The act fulfilled a number of regulatory obligations laid down in the acquis communautaire of the European Union. It also established the Equal Treatment Authority (Egyenlő Bánásmód Hatóság) to handle individual and public complaints on the grounds of unequal treatment, as well as to implement the principles of equality and non discrimination. The fines it can impose for discriminatory practice range from HUF 50,000 (about €200, as at 14 January 2008) to HUF 6,000,000 (about €24,000).

Equal Treatment Authority

The Equal Treatment Authority, which started operations on 1 February 2005, monitors the implementation process of the requirements in relation to equal treatment. The authority is directed by the government and supervised by the minister responsible for equal opportunity issues – currently within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (Szociális és Munkaügyi Minisztérium, SZMM). The authority investigates individual cases of any infringements of the law, and it files cases in defence of those whose rights have been violated. The authority also gives its opinion on draft regulations on equal treatment and advises the government on the issue.

The number of claims filed by the authority increased from 491 in 2005 to 729 in 2006. In this period, most claims regarded various forms of discrimination targeting Roma, older workers and in particular women aged over 50 years, women with children and disabled individuals.

Employment of Roma people

The employment rate of Roma, who make up about 5% of Hungary’s total population, has considerably worsened following the change of the regime in 1989: more than 35% of Roma were excluded from the labour market in the transition years to the free market economy (Kertesi, 2005). Underlying factors of the low labour market participation rate of Hungary’s largest ethnic minority include the:

  • generally low level of education;
  • decline in industries such as metallurgy, mining and construction following the change of regime, where Roma were predominantly employed;
  • structure of state-supported employment programmes, in which a large proportion of Roma participate and which reinforce the pattern of short-term employment;
  • concentration of Roma in deprived regions with lack of employment opportunities.

However, these factors do not entirely account for the poor labour market position of Roma compared with the non-Roma population with the same level of education: the former group’s chances of accessing employment are only half as good as those of the latter. Moreover, the type of jobs – notably low-skilled and seasonal jobs – that Roma are typically hired for are three times as precarious and unstable as those of their non-Roma counterparts.

Ethnicity targeted

A study carried out by the TÁRKI Social Research and Poll Agency (Társadalomkutatási Zrt., TÁRKI) in 2006 revealed that ethnicity plays a decisive role when applying for a new job. Fictional curricula vitae (CVs) were sent in response to job advertisements for secretaries, shop-assistants, telemarketing operators, waiting staff and assistants. The CVs were submitted in equal number by men, women, Roma or non-Roma individuals, and applicants with light disabilities. Some of the applications also had photos attached. Fewer men, Roma and applicants with disabilities received acknowledgement of their application. When a photograph was attached to the CV, typical Roma looks reduced the likelihood of receiving acknowledgement of the application when compared with applications from individuals with non-Roma features.

Receipt of application acknowledgement (%)
This table outlines the proportions of receipt of acknowledgement of applications with and without photographs by the characteristics of applicants and their sex.
  Roma Non-Roma Men Women
Total 23 27 21 29
CV with photograph 19 25 20 26
CV without photograph 26 27 21 32

Source: TÁRKI Social Research Centre

In another study carried out by TÁRKI in the same year, 500 representatives of local governments and 1,000 representatives of the Hungarian adult population were asked to pick one applicant for a secretary’s job from six photographs depicting three Roma and three non-Roma women. The study revealed that the chances of non-Roma women to be employed as secretaries by local government representatives were much higher than those of Roma women. According to the research, the Hungarian adult population would also prefer to see a non-Roma woman as a secretary and, in their case, the impact of ethnicity proved to be stronger.

In 2007, the Equal Treatment Authority found three instances where the principle of equal treatment in employment was violated on the grounds of ethnicity. In one case, the authority found firm evidence that Roma applicants were turned down because of their ethnicity, and the company was fined HUF 1,000,000 (about €4,000). In other cases, the authority found the claim well-founded that employees were dismissed because they were Roma, as a result of which the discriminatory employers were ordered to pay fines.

Gender inequality

Gender inequality in the labour market can be detected in various ways. For instance, women face difficulties in entering the labour market and in re-entering after leave periods; they mainly work in a small number of economic sectors – such as healthcare and public administration – and occupations – such as administrative and clerical jobs. Moreover, women face the challenge of a ‘glass ceiling’ when advancing in the corporate hierarchy: in 2004, the proportion of women in managing positions – such as directors, chief executives, and production and operating managers – stood at 35% compared with 65% of men, according to the European Commission’s database on Women and men in managerial positions 2004 (Eurostat Labour Force Survey cited by Nagy, 2005). With regard to high-level management of top companies in Hungary, the proportion of women was around 13% in 2004 (idem), and they earned up to 40% less in the same position than men did (HU0702039I). Inequalities among women and men can be found in general recruitment as well: the 50 leading companies in Hungary employ three times more men than women.

The patriarchal attitude of society is held responsible for the gender difference in work; this traditional view of society believes that women’s real role is at home, while men should be primarily the provider and breadwinner in the family. In this respect, Hungarians – men and women alike – exhibit the most conservative attitudes of many European countries, according to a recent survey (Bukodi, 2005). In order for Hungary to meet the criteria set in the Lisbon Strategy and increase the proportion of employed women from 55% to 60% by 2010, the number of childcare facilities should be increased and the childcare system reorganised.

In 2007, no gender-related violation of the principle of equal treatment was confirmed by the Equal Treatment Authority. In the previous year, however, the authority fined two companies for violating the principle of equal treatment. One company refused to hire a woman for a job, claiming that it was ‘too heavy for a woman’, while in the other case the Equal Treatment Authority fined a company for paying less to a female employee than to a male employee in the same position. The company was fined the highest possible amount of HUF 1,000,000 (€4,000) for this type of discrimination.

Age discrimination

Every year, an increasing proportion of older people are excluded from the labour market in Hungary, as employers prefer to hire younger workers. At the same time, older employees, in turn, are striving to ensure a fixed income in the form of an early retirement or a disability pension. In 2006, the employment rate of the 50–54 age group was 69%, while only about half (49.9%) of the population in the 55–59 age group worked. With regard to the 60–64 age group, the employment rate stood at 13.4%, according to the 1998 Hungarian Labour Force Survey carried out by the Central Statistical Institute (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, KSH).

After women, it is older people who most often face discrimination in the labour market, according to a report of the Equal Treatment Authority. Job advertisements often exclude people aged over 45 years; however, no legal action is taken to sanction this type of age discrimination. As many as 200 complaints claiming discrimination on the grounds of age were submitted to the Equal Treatment Authority by the end of 2006. In court cases, the Act on equal treatment obliges the employer to disprove discrimination; thus, it is not up to the employee to prove unequal treatment. In one instance, a female applicant aged over 35 years launched a court case against an employer who was seeking applicants exclusively between the age of 25 and 35 years. The court ruled that infringement of the constitutional right already occurred in the job advertisement. Nonetheless, no sanction was imposed against this employer. In 2007, two complaints about discrimination on the grounds of age were considered as well-founded and a fine of HUF 1,000,000 (about €4,000) was imposed in one case.

Low labour market participation of people with disabilities

Inequality in employment for people with disabilities is usually traced back to a number of factors. Apart from an inaccessible environment and the shortage of jobs which meet the requirements of people with disabilities, prejudice from co-workers is an important factor hindering employment of these people. Therefore, labour market participation of people with disabilities is the lowest of all population groups of working age. According to KSH, some 748,000 people with disabilities live in Hungary, 650,000 of whom are in an economically active age group. However, the number of those who are employed amounts to only 95,000 individuals.

In 2006, an employer was fined HUF 800,000 (about €3,200) for discrimination on the grounds of disability – this was the only employment-related case. A mediation company advertised a position for a lawyer and the interview was arranged with an applicant. However, when it turned out that the applicant had a visual impairment, the company cancelled the interview. In 2007, no employment-related cases have been recorded.


Despite actions taken by the government, as well as by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in recent years, a lot remains to be done to ensure equal treatment in the workplace and society at large. Efforts to combat exclusion and create an inclusive society are hindered by the fact that companies involved in legal procedures on the grounds of discrimination against their employees can still participate in public tenders and procurement.


Adler, J., ‘A 45 éven felüliek foglalkoztatási helyzete’ [Employment status of people over the age of 45 years], Research paper supported by the National Employment Public Foundation, Budapest, KSH, 2005.

Bukodi, E., ‘Női munkavállalás és munkaidő felhasználás’ [Women’s labour force participation and time devoted to work], in Nagy, I., Pongrácz, T. and Tóth, I.G. (eds.), Szerepváltozások 2005 [The changing role of women 2005], Budapest, TÁRKI, 2005.

Kertesi, G., ‘Roma foglalkoztatás az ezredfordulón – A rendszerváltás maradandó sokkja’, in Budapesti Munkgazdaságtani Füzetek, Budapest, April 2005, available online at:

Orsolya Polyacskó, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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