Hungarians rally again as ‘slave law’ sparks anger at Orban

Budapest’s nationalist government rejects criticism and blames Soros for protests

People attending a protest against the new labour law in front of the Parliament building in Budapest on December 13th, 2018. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo

People attending a protest against the new labour law in front of the Parliament building in Budapest on December 13th, 2018. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo

 

Hungarians have staged another rally against prime minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government after it pushed through more controversial reforms, including new overtime rules that have been dubbed a “slave law”.

Protesters gathered outside parliament beside the Danube on Thursday evening, where 24 hours earlier some 2,000 people confronted hundreds of police after marching through central Budapest and briefly blocking roads and bridges.

Local media reported that police used tear gas on the crowd and arrested 35 people on Wednesday and that five police officers were hurt in scuffles, after parliament passed the reforms despite uproar in the chamber as opposition deputies tried to block the vote.

Public anger is focused on new legislation that increases from 250 to 400 hours the amount of annual overtime that employers can demand from staff, and gives firms up to three years to pay for it.

German firms

“We have to remove bureaucratic rules so that those who want to work and earn more can do so,” Mr Orban insisted, amid accusations that he is making the changes at the behest of German car firms that have invested heavily in Hungary.

“I listen to everyone – especially trade unions. I listen to their views, I respect freedom of opinion, and I always take into consideration the arguments which are expressed. . . This is a good law, which will be good for workers,” he added.

Members of trade unions were prominent at a protest in Budapest last Saturday, however, when thousands urged Mr Orban to scrap the Bill.

“We are all really upset about the way things are going in this country. This government just makes laws with scant consultation of those affected,” Zoltan Laszlo, vice chairman of Hungary’s Vasas ironworkers union, told Reuters.

“Our health status is already abysmal. People who make these kinds of laws work against society. We’ll show them that we can take our fate into our own hands. We are willing to turn a lot harsher.”

Conspiracy theories

Gergely Gulyas, Mr Orban’s chief of staff, called the opposition’s bid to block Wednesday’s vote “ridiculous” and claimed the protests were led by “aggressive political activists” with links to George Soros, the billionaire liberal philanthropist who plays the lead role in most of the Hungarian government’s conspiracy theories.

Budapest accuses him of funding the mass migration that Mr Orban calls a threat to Europe’s security and identity, and the Central European University that Mr Soros founded in 1991 is now leaving Hungary due to government pressure.

The European Union is taking legal action over Hungary’s policies on migration, NGOs and education, but Mr Orban continues to press ahead with reforms that opponents say undermine his country’s democracy and rule of law.

The government also used its two-thirds majority this week to approve the creation of new administrative courts which will be overseen by the justice minister.

The changes remove the authority of Hungary’s supreme court on administrative matters including elections, taxation, police and public institutions, and are seen by critics as greatly strengthening political control over Hungary’s judicial system.