Hungarian workers protest over 'slavery' law

©Agence France-Presse

Hungary's draft Labour bill seeks a large hike in maximum annual overtime hours that employers can demand, as well as the time period for calculating overtime payments

Budapest (AFP) - Thousands of Hungarian workers demonstrated in Budapest on Saturday against a change to the labour code proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling party that critics have dubbed a 'slavery law'.

Tabled by lawmakers from Orban's right-wing Fidesz party, the draft bill seeks a large hike in maximum annual overtime hours that employers can demand, as well as the time period for calculating overtime payments.  

Some protestors among a crowd that numbered over 5,000 according to an AFP photographer, wore fluorescent yellow vests in an echo of protests in France.

"Wages should be increased not overtime hours," Gyorgy Kalman, a 47-year-old car-factory worker who travelled from the city of Gyor to attend the protest, told AFP.

"We should stand up for ourselves like the French have," he said, referring to the "yellow vests" movement.

Representatives of most Hungarian opposition parties also took part in the march. 

The government has argued that the change would benefit those wanting to earn more money by working more hours.

But the demonstration organiser, the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation (MASZSZ), demands the scrapping of the bill.

In a prior statement MASZSZ leader Laszlo Kordas said the law "attacked a wide strata of society". 

"Workers would be obliged to do 50 days overtime work a year," if the proposed limit increase in the current 250 hours to 400 hours is adopted, he said.

Critics have also speculated that German automotive giants, a key part of the Hungarian economy, have lobbied Budapest to loosen overtime restrictions due to increasing labour shortages in the country.

The German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce has denied that any German firms have sought the modifications.

The Hungarian parliament is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.