Hungarian govt won't amend labor rules causing protests

A government spokesman said Wednesday that Hungarian officials have no plans to change revised rules on overtime work and other labor code amendments that led to almost a week of protests, including one where state TV security guards roughed up opposition lawmakers.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs described the demonstrations that started the night lawmakers passed the amendments as "political," adding that they were organized by groups he claimed are backed by Hungarian-American financier George Soros.

"What we see on the streets is a political protest organized by political parties and political activists" Kovacs told reporters in Paris. "The Hungarian regulation is fully in line with the European regulations and has nothing to do with slavery."

Dubbed the "slave law" by critics, the changes won parliamentary approval on Dec. 12. They would increase the number of overtime hours employers could ask workers to put in voluntarily, essentially bringing back a six-day work week, and allow overtime payments to remain unpaid for up to three years. President Janos Ader hasn't yet signed them into law.

Several opposition lawmakers have taken part in the protests outside the parliament building and at state television headquarters in Budapest.

On Monday, security guards assaulted and ejected three who entered the state TV building, insisting on the right to read a list of five demands live on air. The demands included revocation of the labor law changes.

"It has not happened in decades that a lawmaker suffered physical violence. It did not happen even during communism," said independent lawmaker Akos Hadhazy, one of the assaulted parliamentarians. "This means that on the way that leads from democracy to dictatorship, we are now certainly closer to dictatorship than to democracy."

Bernadett Szel, another of the lawmakers expelled from the state TV building, said that if the president signs the law, they planned to appeal to Hungary's Constitutional Court and look for other legal options to have the amendments struck down.

Kovacs condemned the lawmakers* actions.

"Breaching not only physically, but also the protocols of public institutions is certainly not within the limits of expressing your opinion even if it comes from a political representative in parliament," Kovacs said. "Laws should be followed by everyone."

Though the protests were sparked by the labor changes, multiple issues have fueled discontent with the government.

Among them are the government*s decision to force a Budapest-based university founded by Soros to move most of its activities to Vienna next year; the creation of a new court system that will be under direct government control and corruption.

Political opponents also object to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's moves to clamp down on the free press while creating a huge conglomerate of government-backed broadcast, online and print publications to uncritically echo the government*s policies.

Several smaller demonstrations were held Wednesday around Hungary, while 16 trade unions and federations representing nearly 200,000 workers said they had formed a committee to prepare for a wide-ranging strike, possibly in January, to oppose the "slave law."


Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.