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Hungarian NGOs condemn controversial new laws

Two new controversial laws have been approved by the Hungarian parliament, with the country’s opposition, despite making a great deal of noise during the debate by sounding sirens and blowing whistles, once again unable to stop prime minister Viktor Orbán.

A so-called slavery law will change Hungary’s labour code and increase annual overtime from 250 to 400 hours, preventing employees from receiving any premium payments even if they work longer hours.

“I listen to everyone, especially the trade unions: I listen to their views, I respect freedom of opinion, and I always take into consideration the arguments which are expressed,” said Mr Orbán after the parliamentary vote. “In this case I think that the objections put forward carried far less weight than the legislative amendment itself. This is a good law, which will be good for workers.”

The other law, which has also raised serious concerns amongst civil society, will establish new courts for administrative cases giving greater powers to the minister of justice. Decisions of these new courts will affect fundamental rights such as matters related to elections, abuses of power by the police, asylum or the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. Courts will also decide on issues with significant economic relevance: disputes over taxation and customs, media, public procurement, construction and building permits, cases of land and forest ownership, land and real estate public records or even market competition matters.

According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the law will significantly undermine the independence of the judiciary, as the boundaries between the executive and judicial power will be blurred, paving the way for political interference in legal matters.

On the evening of December 12, demonstrations against the two laws, which began in front of the Hungarian parliament, spread through the city, stopping traffic in some of the city’s busiest areas and reaching the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party.

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