Population: 10,000,000
Capital: Budapest
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The Constitutional Court raised objections to the existing model of social dialogue. The law protects trade union rights, but some problems persist regarding the right to bargain collectively. Budapest airport used fixed-term employees to replace striking workers.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The Hungarian Constitution and the Labour Code recognise the right to organise and the right to strike. At least ten workers must want to establish a union. Only permanent residents and documented migrant workers can hold a trade union office. The 2002 Labour Code obliges the employer to deduct union membership fees from the employee's pay and transfer them to the union concerned if an employee makes a relevant request in writing. The Code also provides for statutory time off for union activists. The employers are not allowed to hire temporary agency workers during strike, but temporary workers already hired before the strike are allowed to continue working.

Union officials protected from dismissal: 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 against this 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 more effective protection of trade union officials.

High hurdles to collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is permitted at the enterprise and industry level. Section 33 of the Labour Code requires trade unions to represent 65% of the workforce (for a single union) or 50% of the workforce (for a group of unions) in order to be able to engage in collective bargaining, which is in excess of ILO standards. New legislation introduced in 2006 that applies to the public service gives the right to bargain collectively to trade unions who represent, individually or jointly, at least 25% of workforce in a given agency; otherwise the collective agreement must be voted on. 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 a complaint by any worker or trade union. A new tripartite body, the Council for Supporting the Labour Inspectorate, has been established.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The socialist-led government was heavily hit by the opposition-sponsored referendum against proposed economic reforms. The value of the national currency plummeted due to the global financial crisis. Hungary had to take a major financial rescue package from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank. Many strikes took place during the year.

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. Court rulings are not always properly enforced: LIGA reports that it took six years for an unfairly dismissed trade union leader in the Malev airline company to obtain a reinstatement order from the court, but the employer is still not allowing him to return to work.

Government in breach of a collective agreement: In November, thousands of public sector workers protested in front of the Parliament after the government announced its intention to curb public servants' bonuses, thereby ignoring the collective agreement with public service trade unions. Trade unions were prepared to go on a nationwide strike, but a compromise deal was reached in December.

Update on Budapest airport – strike-breakers hired: As mentioned in previous editions of this Survey, the Independent Trade Union of Air Transport Workers (LDFSZ – affiliated to LIGA) is continuing to be ostracised. When the union organised a strike in the end of the year, the employer hired foreigners on fixed-term contracts to replace the striking workers.

Surveillance in MOL Nyrt: An inquiry into the work of the LIGA-affiliated Trade Union of Oil Industry Workers at MOL Nyrt (Hungarian Oil and Gas Public Limited Company) and of the company's works council was conducted by the company, which collected information about the workers' leaders. A private investigator was commissioned to make a study of the financial affairs of the union's president and his family and friends.

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