‘Workshy’ enter brave new world
Under Hungary’s new Labour Code with effect from 1 September, the unemployed are forced to do public works for less than minimum wages or forfeit their eligibility for social benefits.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán promised to create a million jobs when his government came into office, and the new labour law may help to achieve this, in a round about way. At the end of May Orbán commented in a television interview that dam building, drainage system cleaning and reservoir construction are not done by 21st-century technology but require “community work”. Such work has now been given a legal framework.
No more free lunches
Under the law, those deemed able to work will have their unemployment benefits cut if they refuse to do public works. Journeys of three hours daily to the site are considered acceptable, as are longer distances on condition that the employer provides accommodation and board. In light of such plans, the term “forced labour camp” soon did the rounds.
The monthly wage is HUF 52,480 (EUR 211), HUF 25,000 (EUR 73.61) less than the statutory minimum wage and without the payment of pension contributions. The workers receive a weekly payment of HUF 13,120, or HUF 2,624 per day. However, a government decree published last week determined that monthly wages for public works could go as high as HUF 78,000 (EUR 289), depending on skill level.
The law states that public works wages must be paid weekly. Unemployed people who reject such jobs or quit the programme will lose their eligibility for social benefits in an effort to force the “workshy” back to work. Government spokeswoman Linda Nagy said the aim is to encourage the jobless to get qualifications and return to the labour market.
Private sector involvement
One aspect of the law that has caused particular surprise is the provision that such workers can be “borrowed” by private companies. Here too the rule applies: if an unemployed person refuses the work offered by private companies, their social benefits will be cut. The question is to what extent such “loaning out” of public workers will let companies simply replace regular workers. The set-up brings to mind the debate in Germany about “one-euro jobs”. Unlike in Hungary now, however, such workers could only be used by the German state.
Interior Minister Sándor Pintér has emphasised that the income from doing public works needs to be higher than social benefits but lower than the minimum wage, to provide an incentive for returning to the labour market. The minimum wage is HUF 78,000 a month or HUF 94,000 (EUR 346.02) a month for skilled work as of January 1, 2011.