Hungary to Water Down ‘Slave Law’ After Uproar Over Extra Hours

(Bloomberg) -- Hungary plans to water down a proposed bill aimed at boosting the extra hours employers can demand from workers after labor unions and opposition parties dubbed it the “slave law.”

Hungary, like other countries in eastern Europe, is struggling with a labor shortage that’s drawn complaints from companies that they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill vacant posts. Legislation originally submitted by ruling party lawmakers this week envisioned boosting the extra hours employers could force employees to work to 400 hours annually, from 250 hours now.

The bill sparked a heated, late-night debate in parliament on Tuesday, prompting the acting speaker of the house to cut off opposition members who spoke out against the legislation. After labor unions announced a nationwide protest for Dec. 8, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government decided to back down.

The legislation will be amended to make the extra hours voluntary rather than compulsory, Gergely Gulyas, the minister in charge of Orban’s office, said Wednesday. Employers won’t be allowed to penalize workers who reject extra hours, he said.

Not even double-digit wage growth has resolved the labor shortage. The main causes are accelerating economic growth that’s raised demand for workers, while an ageing population and Hungarians seeking higher salaries abroad have also depleted the labor pool. Hungary’s jobless rate was 3.7 percent in the August-October period, near a record low.

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