“Slave law” sparks unrest in Hungary

Hungarian street protest © Getty images
Protesters reject Orbán’s labour reforms

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán “has defined himself by his opposition to immigration”, says The Times. So it is ironic his efforts to deal with “chronic labour shortages” have led to “one of the strongest challenges of his eight years in power”.

Orbán has introduced directives (dubbed a “slave law”) to increase the amount of overtime that staff can be asked to work from 250 to 400 hours a year. The idea of employees in effect being forced to work for “one day a week for no extra pay” means 83% of the population opposes it.

It may be that Orbán is “overestimating his ability to fight battles on several fronts”, says Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg. He has successfully fended off efforts by European Union officials “to constrain his authoritarian impulses”.

But suppressing domestic protest against laws that affect regular citizens’ lives “is a more difficult undertaking”. And what makes the current protests especially significant is that the demonstrators come from two distinct sections of Hungarian society, writes The Economist. “Veteran protesters” with “ideological grievances against the regime” have been joined by those who are simply “concerned about their everyday lives.” That could prove a “potent mixture”.

However, it would be a mistake to overestimate the threat to Orbán. The protests are still relatively weak, with just 10,000 taking part in the main march. What’s more, the Hungarian leader “looks secure”, with polls indicating that more than half of all Hungarians support the ruling party, Fidesz, with opposition groups still trailing “far behind”.