ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
The government appeared to show greater interest in respecting workers' and trade union rights than employers, although some problems were reported in the public service. Good conduct in industrial relations became a condition for bidding for state tenders for example, while the employer's hostile reaction to the formation of a union at the Magyar Suzuki car assembly plant prompted the Prime Minister to boycott the launch of a new Suzuki model. High representational thresholds for collective bargaining are still in excess of ILO standards.
Trade union rights in law
The Hungarian Constitution and the Labour Code recognise the right to organise and the right to strike. The 2002 Labour Code obliges the employer to deduct union membership fees from the employee's pay and transfer them to the union concerned, upon receipt of a written request by the employee. The Code also provides for statutory time off for union activists.
Union officials protected from dismissal by law: The law prohibits trade union discrimination and provides for protection from dismissal for trade union officials. However, the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions MSZOSZ (affiliated to the ITUC) reports that if a trade union refuses to agree to a shop steward's dismissal, and the employer appeals the refusal in court, defending the trade union position becomes very difficult. The 2005 amendment to the Labour Code eased the trade union's burden of proof, but it has not yet resulted in the more efficient protection of trade union officials.
High hurdles to collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is permitted at the enterprise and industry level. However, section 33 of the Labour Code requires trade unions to represent 65 percent (individually) or 50 percent (jointly) of workers to be able to engage in collective bargaining, in excess of ILO standards. Once a union is established, the employer and the union are under an obligation to cooperate. Under a separate law, public servants may negotiate working conditions, but the final decision on increasing public service pay rests with parliament.
Good conduct in labour relations becomes a condition for state tenders: Hungarian companies that wish to bid for state-funded tenders need to prove their good conduct as regards labour relations. A company must certify that it has not been sanctioned for violating labour laws, that it is not a party to court proceedings that could result in such a sanction being imposed, and that there are no significant conflicts between the company's management and labour. As a result, large companies have begun to appreciate the importance of good co-operation with trade unions. Clearer responsibilities and a stronger mandate for the labour inspectorate have also had a positive impact, especially after it was decided that an inspection should follow any worker's or trade union's complaint. A new tripartite body, the Council for Supporting the Labour Inspectorate, has been established.
Trade union rights in practice
Weaknesses in the system: Two national trade union centres, MSZOSZ and LIGA, have reported cases of employers intimidating trade union members, transferring, relocating or dismissing trade union officers, and hindering trade unions from entering the workplace, noting that such violations are repeated year by year. Although unfair dismissal cases are usually won by the workers, it is not uncommon for court proceedings to take over a year. Unfortunately too few cases are exposed, or even reported to the trade union organisations, because of workers' insufficient legal knowledge and fear of blacklisting. However, in a number of cases workers and trade unions have had their rights adequately protected in the courts.
Violations in 2006
Background: 2006 was a year of political turmoil for Hungary, with mass rallies in September, when thousands demanded the resignation of the country's socialist Prime Minister, whose government admittedly lied during the elections, followed by violent anti-government protests in October. 800 people were hurt on the streets. Stricter labour regulations were introduced to meet EU standards, with a focus on improving enforcement. An increasing number of employers sought to avoid those regulations, however, by imposing false self-employment and civil and commercial contracts.
Attacks against the Independent Union of Air Transport Workers: The Independent Union of Air Transport Workers (LDFSZ), affiliated to the Democratic Trade Union Confederation LIGA (affiliated to the ITUC), faced problems both at Budapest Airport and at the national air carrier MALEV. The human resource director of the Budapest Airport, Mr. Patrick Eraut, refused to co-operate with the LDFSZ. During the management-union negotiations, Mr. Eraut told the other trade unions active in the company that he would leave the room if the LDFSZ joined the meeting. The president of the LDFSZ had his board membership terminated on 26 September, after he vocally criticised Budapest Airport's financial management. The termination of his board membership automatically resulted in his dismissal, since his employment contract had been converted to a fixed term one, in connection with his mandate on the supervisory board. The case was in court at the time of writing.
Employer ignores court ruling on reinstatement: The 2006 Survey exposed the case of Nitrogénmuvek (Nitrogen Works) Co. Ltd (city of Pétfürdö) where works council members were summarily dismissed as a result of a previous dispute and for disclosing the court judgement to potential buyers. In April 2006 the labour court gave its final judgement, declaring the employer's actions unlawful, and ordered the workers' reinstatement. However the employer failed to honour the judgement and the works council members remained barred from entering the company premises.
Anti-union action at Magyar Suzuki: The Suzuki car assembly plant in the city of Esztergom became the centre of media attention at the beginning of 2006, when the formation of a trade union (a branch of the LIGA Iron and Steel Association) as a result of an industrial dispute led to an extremely hostile reaction by the employer. The management forbade workers to form a union inside the factory, so the trade union inaugural meeting, on 13 January, had to be held in a rented bus. Trade union members remained anonymous for fear of retaliation. The trade union president, who made his name public, was summarily dismissed in February. The situation was seen as undermining the country's whole democratic order, to the extent that the Hungarian Prime Minister refused to take part in the launch of the new Suzuki SX4 model and visited a trade union meeting instead. The Prime Minister issued a press statement about workers' constitutional rights to form and join a union. At the end of the year, the trade union president was still trying to get his job back through the courts.
Anti-union action in the public service: The National Theatre of Gyor instigated disciplinary action against the president of the Union of Theatre Technical Employees (SZMDSZ) and the works council president on trumped-up grounds and harassed other trade union members. There were 15 court cases between the trade union or its members and the employer in progress at the time of writing.
In September the Detention Centre in Szolnok refused to transfer trade union dues via check-off, despite the request of all 32 trade union members. The dispute was before the labour court at the time of writing.
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