'Slave Act': Changes To Working Time Rules


In Hungary, as is the case in other EU countries, recent economic growth has been accompanied by a labour shortage. This is largely due to Hungarian workers emigrating to other EU countries in search of higher wages and better living standards. According to statistics, approximately 5% of the country's working-age population has emigrated to other EU countries in recent years.

In parallel to this, several foreign investors have chosen to develop their production sites in Hungary, which has resulted in an increasing demand for workers. Under pressure to find a solution, the government introduced a new law to amend the working time rules, including by increasing the overtime limits and extending so-called 'work-time cycles'.

Since its adoption, the new law has come under close scrutiny from opposition parties and trade unions, and in December 2018 thousands of people took to the streets to protest what has become known as the 'slave act'. In addition to the protests, many commentators have analysed the new law's potential effects from several angles.

Changes to overtime limits

The amended overtime limits affect most employers and employees and have thus been the most heavily debated of the recent amendments.

Contrary to many reports, the limits for overtime which may be unilaterally ordered by an employer remain unchanged (250 hours per calendar year or 300 hours per calendar year based on a collective bargaining agreement). However, employers may now order an additional 150 hours (or 100 hours where the limit is increased to 300 hours by a collective agreement) of overtime based on an individual agreement concluded with the employee. Thus, the maximum overtime limit has been increased to 400 hours per calendar year.

This additional overtime (so-called 'voluntary overtime') has been heavily criticised - in some cases, rightly so - because employees are usually not in a position to freely agree to such overtime.

Conversely, employees in certain sectors are willing to perform additional work for extra pay, in which case such agreements could be beneficial to both parties (employers will have greater flexibility in scheduling and employees who wish to perform overtime will be allowed to do so). Further, due to the labour shortage, employers are sometimes reluctant to require employees to perform too much overtime, as they could risk losing their workforce to competitors.

The rules governing the maximum daily working times and rest periods remain...

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