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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Hungary

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Hungary, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd889482d.html [accessed 2 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 10,000,000
Capital: Budapest

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

With its overwhelming majority the Hungarian government has pushed through controversial changes to the country's labour code, impacting on collective bargaining and making the right to strike yet more restrictive. Hungary's perilous economic situation has also harshened the operating environment for trade unionists.

Background

At the end of 2011 the Hungarian economy remained in very poor shape, with modest growth of 1.4% and unemployment at 10.6%. Of bigger concern has been the budget deficit and the likely need for an IMF/EU bailout. The right-wing Fidesz government of Viktor Orban introduced sweeping constitutional changes in 2011 following its landslide election victory in 2010. Opposition to these changes has been intense, and both domestic and international in nature. Substantial and controversial changes were also made to the country's labour code and a bill to this effect passed through parliament in December. Unions were involved in organising numerous protests against these changes.

Trade union rights in law

The Constitution and the Labour Code recognise the right to organise and the right to collective bargaining. Despite this fairly solid legal framework, some problematic areas exist. The new Labour Code adopted in 2011 failed to address some key trade union rights. It lacks enough dissuasive sanctions to ensure the protection against trade union discrimination and it does not offer sufficient protection to trade union officers. In addition, the new law limits freedom of opinion and expression with the objective to protect the lawful economic interest of the employers or their prestige. Therefore, workers are not allowed to express opinions on their employment within or outside working time.... The protection against dismissal and the right to free time for officials are exclusively granted to trade unions authorised to conclude a collective agreement, i.e. those that reach the 10% threshold.

The new Labour Code also imposes restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. Only one collective agreement can be concluded at the enterprise level, by one or more unions acting together which number of members reaches 10% of the number of employees covered by the collective agreement. If this threshold is not reached, work councils have the possibility to conclude "work agreements" with the effect of collective agreements. Also, works councils have the priority or the exclusive right, to the detriment of trade unions, to be consulted on several important issues.

With the amendment in 2010 of Act VII of 1989 on strikes, the broad prohibition of the "abuse of the right to strike" may lead to abuses and the restriction of this right on the part of the authorities. Furthermore, the right is restricted for public sector workers, as a strike can only be exercised in accordance with special regulations contained in an agreement signed between the government and public sector unions in 1994. While employers are not allowed to hire temporary workers during a strike, temporary workers already hired before the strike are allowed to continue working. In addition, workers in transport services and their organisations are prevented from going on strike.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

New legal code undermines union rights:

With its overwhelming parliamentary majority the Hungarian government has been able to pass employment and labour relations legislation without consulting trades unions.

Changes have been made to the tripartite interest reconciliation system, with a new body the National Economic and Social Council (NGTT) replacing the National Interest Reconciliation Council. The NGTT will not be a decision-making body and only the cabinet will be able to decide on wage and employment regulations. Both employers and union were against these reforms.

In addition, measures aimed at deregulating the labour market will also have a significant impact on collective bargaining and consultation rights. A shift in favour of works councils to the detriment of unions is foreseen, and employers will gain powers to discriminate against unions they dislike.

Government pressure on the unions led to division, with only half the Federations agreeing to the new rules on collective bargaining.

Growing difficulty in exercising right to strike:

Changes made by parliament to the law on strikes at the end of 2010 have led to rendering strikes illegal in companies providing core services to the population, unless the parties involved have agreed on the sufficient level and condition of services. When this condition is not met the level will be determined by the courts. With no detailed provisions laid out there is now considerable legal uncertainty.

This state of affairs has been exemplified by two cases:

In the spring of 2011 the Trade Union Federation of Bus Drivers decided to call a strike after bargaining with three county-level bus companies broke down, and requested that the court determine the core level of services that should be provided. The court has since twice rejected the union's application, and has stated that the union has a vested interest in determining the conditions, even though the law is clear that the court needs to adjudicate on this.

The Trade Union of United Electricity Workers sought to strike in June 2011 in protest at several of the government's social and employment reforms. Here again the unions met with a lack of decision-making from the courts in determining minimum levels of service, thereby making any strike action illegal.

Controversial media law also impacts on unions: The 'hectic decision-making' of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been much criticised and the new media law in particular. The suspicion has been voiced that levels of employment were kept at 49 in three of the organisations subject to reform – Magyar Televízió, Magyar Rádió and Duna Televízió – to avoid the obligation to set up works councils.

Violations

Chemical Workers Union President taken to court: Hungarian Chemical Workers Union President, Tamas Szekely, has had court proceedings launched against him by the tyre manufacturer Bridgestone, without any prior consultation or notification. The case relates to a 2009 report in the union journal about occupational health problems suffered by an employee, Tibor Skoflek. The move follows changes to the Hungarian Labour Code that enable employers to take action relating to activities under the previous legislation.

Chief shop steward dismissed: The chief shop steward of the Trade Union of Economic Experts at the Airport Security Trading and Service Zrt group, an outsourced part of the Malev Zrt group, was dismissed in December 2011 without consent of the higher level workers' representation body being sought. A court case was ongoing at the time of going to press.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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