Hungary - Labor

Of the total employment of 3,697,700 in 1998, 24.7% were in manufacturing; 7.5% in agriculture, 12.8% in trade; 8.2% in transportation; 6.2% in construction; and the remainder in other branches of the economy, including administration, health, and education. In 2002, the estimated unemployment rate stood at5.8%.

Before World War II, trade unions had not developed substantially; their combined membership was only about 100,000, principally craftsmen. After the war, the government reduced the number of the traditional craft unions, organized them along industrial lines, and placed them under Communist Party control. The Central Council of Hungarian Trade Unions (SZOT) held a monopoly over labor interests for over 40 years. Since wages, benefits, and other aspects of employment were state-controlled, the SZOT acted as a social service agency, but was dissolved in 1990 with the shift away from centralization to democracy. The National Federation of Trade Unions is its successor, with 735,000 members in 1999. There are now several other large labor organizations in Hungary, including the Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions, with some 100,000 members, and the Federation of Workers' Councils, with 56,000 members. Labor disputes are usually resolved by conciliation boards; appeal may be made to courts. Since 1991, most unions have been hesitant to strike, preferring instead to act as a buffer between workers and the negative side effects of economic reform. Collective bargaining is permitted but is not widespread.

The eight-hour day, adopted in several industries before World War II, is now widespread. The five-day week is typical, but many Hungarians have second or third jobs. The law prohibits employment for children under the age of 15 and closely regulates child labor. The minimum wage in 2002 was $140 per month which was not sufficient to provide a decent lifestyle for a family. Most workers earn more than this amount. Health and safety conditions in the workplace do not meet international standards, and regulations are not enforced due to limited resources.

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