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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Hungary

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Hungary, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec7537.html [accessed 20 September 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 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union registration practices are long and cumbersome, and judges and prosecutors are free to interfere with internal trade union matters. Organising in multinationals is particularly difficult. Public sector workers' trade union rights are limited, and collective bargaining is difficult to initiate.

Trade union rights in law

Despite a fairly solid legal framework, some problematic areas remain. The Constitution and the Labour Code recognise the right to organise and the right to strike. While employers are not allowed to hire temporary workers during a strike, temporary workers already hired before the strike are allowed to continue working. Furthermore, although the right to collective bargaining is recognised, many public service workers are exempted from this right. The thresholds for unions to be recognised as bargaining agents are also excessively high. Public servants may negotiate on working conditions, but the final decision on increasing public service pay rests with Parliament. The right to strike is likewise restricted for public sector workers, and can only be exercised in accordance with special regulations contained in an agreement signed between the government and public sector unions in 1994.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: In April the new Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai announced a programme of public spending cuts, tax rises and public wage freezes. In April some 3,000 workers, representing all six national trade union centres, rallied in front of the Parliament building in Budapest to protest against the anti-crisis measures which put most of the burden on employees. Major strikes in the transport sector took place throughout the year.

Protection in court cumbersome: The National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions MSZOSZ reports that if a trade union refuses to agree to a shop steward's dismissal, and the employer appeals against this in court, defending the trade union position becomes very difficult. A 2005 amendment to the Labour Code eased the trade union's burden of proof, but it has not yet resulted in more effective protection of trade union officials.

Many obstacles to union registration: Trade unions report that when registering a union, judges often request additional documents or data that is difficult to obtain and/or unnecessary for the establishment of a union. There have been cases where the judge asked the union to re-write its whole application due to some minor flaw in it. In addition, trade unions are required to prove that they have the right to use the property or the premises of their head office. If the premises are owned by several individuals or companies, the procedure becomes even more complicated. There were also cases where the employer's written consent was required to establish a union or where the union had to use the company's name in its official name.

The court's bureaucratic and arbitrary approach not only causes delays but may create insurmountable obstacles to union registration: eliminating the shortcomings pointed out by the court often requires a new founding meeting with exactly the same people attending. If the union is unable to convene such a meeting within 45 days, registration will be denied.

There were also cases tantamount to direct interference in trade union administration: the court ordered the union to provide very detailed operational rules in its constitution, or to define which professional categories it covered, failing which the court would reject the membership fee rates (1% of the salary) as being "undemocratic".

Prosecutors monitor trade union activities: The national legislation gives the prosecutors' offices the right to oversee trade union activities. The prosecutors may review general and ad hoc decisions of the organisations, conduct inspections or request other state bodies to do so, and must be granted access to the trade union offices.

Prosecutors have organised inspections to verify "the lawfulness of trade union operations". The unions were asked to provide documents such as registration documents, membership records with original membership application forms, minutes of the meetings of union bodies and their resolutions, the general ledger, an inventory of assets, documents pertaining to financial support including unsuccessful fund-raising applications, tax returns, statistical reports, invitations to trade union events and the like. The practice was not uniform, as some prosecutors only asked the union to provide a written summary of matters such as the membership or the union's financial situation.

There were cases where the prosecutor was not satisfied with a trade union's financial reporting, and ordered additional reports well above what is provided by law. Sometimes the prosecutor interfered in matters of a purely internal nature, such as weighted voting in trade union bodies or information on termination of membership. Trade unions can appeal against prosecutors' orders in court, but the proceedings take time and in the meantime the union has to work in a climate of uncertainty. Court rulings only apply to specific cases so they do not prevent further interference by prosecutors in the future.

Anti-union tactics: Anti-union behaviour is not uncommon. Cases of employers intimidating trade union members, transferring, relocating or dismissing trade union officers, and hindering trade unions from entering the workplace occur every year. Although unfair dismissal cases are usually won by the workers, court proceedings often take over a year.

In multinational companies workers either struggle to organise and to get recognition, or try to defend earlier achievements from collective bargaining. Flexible working arrangements aggravate the situation: for example, nearly a quarter of the workers at Nestlé's chocolate factory in Miskolc are supplied by employment agencies. These workers cannot join a union, no matter how many times their contracts are renewed.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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