Forced labor battalions? That’s what they sound like

This morning I stared at the front page of Népszava, not quite believing my eyes. Hungary, it seems, is introducing its own draconian version of "from welfare to workfare." After 90 days of unemployment insurance, all assistance will come to a screeching halt. If the unemployed person can't find a job during those 90 days, he will have to enroll in public works programs which might be anywhere in the country and work on some large public projects, like building football stadiums or dams and cleaning sewers. The work will be done under police supervision. According to reports, the average person will work only half time for less money than the minimum wage. If a person must spend more than six hours a day travelling in order to reach his workplace, he can stay in one of the trailers that will be set up at the site.

The work offered will be manual. The heavy construction work on a stadium, for example, could be much more efficiently done by heavy machinery, but that would defeat the government's purpose. So, basically these people will be hired for the sake of padding the employment statistics. After all, the added value of their work will be practically zero. In order to make the statistics even more attractive, most of these people will work only four hours a day. Thus, some of the unskilled workers who had been on welfare until now will receive, according to one source, as little as 15,600 forints (about $82) a month.

According to the article, the number of policemen employed, presumably to keep these people on the job, is staggering. 1,300 policemen who were forced to return from retirement will supervise 4,000 forced laborers. Apparently the state is planning to build large reservoirs that will need 8,000 workers who will be looked after by 2,500 policemen. On the reinforcing of a 120 km-long dam along the Tisza River there will be 6,500 workers and 1,200 policemen.

Well, I was gasping. Since Népszava didn't give a source I started looking elsewhere. I found the answer in Népszabadság. The information originally came from the web site of a new organization of retired policeman called Szolgálat és Becsület Érdekvédelmi Mozgalom (Advocacy Movement of Service and Honor). The original article appeared a good two weeks ago, on June 10, but this group that has about 200 fans on Facebook not surprisingly didn't attract the attention of the media. When I saw the date of this original article and learned that the government had approved a program called Magyar Munka Terv (Hungarian Work Plan) in order to create 1 million jobs in 10 years at the end of May, I started to give credence to the information the retired policemen provided.

There were other telling signs that something like this might be under consideration, although who in his wildest imagination could have thought of labor camps supervised by the police? For example, one couldn't quite understand why the public works program was brought under the supervision of the minister of interior whose main job until now was dealing with the law enforcement agencies. Sándor Pintér, the minister, while negotiating with the trade unions did mention something about retired policemen supervising workers on public work projects. Suddenly, recalling retired policemen also makes sense. Then there is an agreement Viktor Orbán signed with Florián Farkas (Fidesz), the current leader of the Roma community, about the creation of 100,000 jobs next year for the Roma. At the time I just laughed. Yes, yes, by next year 100,000 jobs for the Roma! What a huge fib. But now everything is becoming clear.

Népszabadság expressed their suspicion that "the main target" of this program are the Roma. Dóra Ónody-Molnár, the author of the article, came to the conclusion that "the goal is no longer to get these people back to the marketplace." The new government gave up on educating these people or teaching them new skills. They will shovel dirt for a few years on various public works projects. The former government's program was called "Út a munkához" (The Road to Work), but clearly the Fidesz program doesn't contain any illusion of these people ever getting a decent job on their own.

We also learned just today that the country's labor laws will be changed as well. They must be changed because it looks as if the people working on these projects will be on a different wage scale from the rest of society. The current minimum wage is 78,000 forints, but Pintér suggests that they will receive a sum equal to the amount of assistance they would have received if they had been on welfare (28,500 forints). Those who are actively looking for a job currently receive 46,800 forints. These people will not be able to get more than what they received in the form of assistance.

I couldn't quite believe that the government could introduce something that so closely resembles forced labor camps or forced labor battalions of Jews and other undesirables in World War II. So, I waited for a government response denying all this as a vicious lie of the liberals, socialists, communists, take your pick. But silence all day long. Then at 3:30 p.m. Pintér announced at a press conference that "we don't want to keep the workers under surveillance. …We are talking about instruction, direction, organization. Placing 300,000 people into work projects is a complicated affair that needs exactly the skills policemen have." So, this is all true.

Who knows what the newly reconstructed constitutional court will think of this latest brainstorm of Viktor Orbán and his team, but since the government is currently working on changing the labor laws it is very possible that employment at public works projects will simply be taken out of the Labor Code. Anything is possible. We are getting used to the idea that something that was unimaginable yesterday becomes reality today.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

“Instruction, direction, organization”–apologies to the police, but this sounds more like the skills of teachers or engineering project managers. This is unbelievable!


Wow. This is unbelievable.
So somebody, a few years before retirement, no policeman and more than 90 days unemployed needs to work in a camp. Or a mother coming back from pregnancy leave needs to work on the other side of the country without her kids?
If older people, not trained, do heavy work than I assume the State take care of their hospital bills and their disability pension.
Btw today I learned there will be an extreme tax for extreme sport participant injuries introduced. Does the aforementioned scope of activities fall under this? And two eighty years doing a wheelchair race?
Regarding the payment of salaries. Does the smaller amount paid out for same job breach the discrimination clause of the EU?


Actually Gretchen, with the dismantling of the higher education system and closing of many city secondary schools, a lot of the forced laborers will be teachers and professors.


Unemployed fathers will work five days, for peanuts, away from their children. Live in a trailer? How the hell are they supposed to get back in the workforce in their own line of work?
Just wandering .. Any plans of government support for re-training? Only the shovel?
I tell what will happen: soup kitchens petty crime (Magyar crime) up.
The good news is OV can write off 10% of the voting population.


I’m confused with this part: how will they tell the “actively looking” people and the “coming from welfare” people apart?

Eva S. Balogh

Mutt Damon: “I’m confused with this part: how will they tell the “actively looking” people and the “coming from welfare” people apart?”
There is something called “álláskeresési járadék” which is about twice of the ordinary welfare recipient’s monthly pay. I guess that these two categories are clearly designated.


I wonder how to make sure that the police-men will not need to be supervised? All will be on forced labour there. I also think that it should be examined whether this is in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Hungary does not have an opt-out clause) but I am not a lawyer and only suspect that it could violate this article: “Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity.”


Words fail me- again.


“We are getting used to the idea that something that was unimaginable yesterday becomes reality today.”
Echoes of 1930s Germany yet again.


What surprises me the most is, that this new Fidesz moove does not surprises me at all. It certainly struck me to as a “solution” for the Roma problem.


My evil left-liberal brain is failing me today .. Say what? They will pay two different wages for the same work? Johnny? Are you on the line? Am I missing something?
Ok. Bright side. Let’s play with numbers. More then 10% unemployment rate, say the half of it stays unemployed for more then 3 months. That’s almost 400,000 people. Assuming an apathetic 50 something % turnout at the next elections this number translates to a cool 10% of the votes. This is a lot of angry Magyars and their families who will vote for the first party on the ballot promising common sense unemployment benefits.
I think we should call this “Project Recsk”.

peter litvanyi

Dear Eva and Paul/ others:
“unimaginable yesterday becomes reality today”. I wonder if anyone noticed that this is almost a word for word quotation from the the great Bohumil Hrabal /I served the King of England/.
Dear Paul; is the Rajk document I was referring to. You might like it. After my common law wife Barbara/my ex wife Judit both signed it: it might even be true then. I am an American by the way.
Am sorry I didn’t realize you don’t read Hungarian /lucky you/. The article I posted is not available in English. Instead I am sending you this:

TMG communicates mostly in French and Hungarian so this might have to suffice.
Yes, I DO belive in the EU as well. Our unique chance and you are right. Kristen might be interested in this interview as well.
For those who speak Hungarian: the interview with Mr. Vago on /Egyenes Beszed/.
Peter Litvanyi

Odin's lost eye
Peter You do not have to believe in the EU -IT EXISTS!. Kirsten this idea of Forced Labour is directly contravenes Article 4 section 2 of the Charter of Human Rights. Hum Ho! Here we go again the ‘Mighty One’ (OV) and his myrmidons are going to get another a big slapping in the European Court of Human rights if they enact this one. The problem is that neither the EU nor the Council of Europe can anticipate an illegal action by a government, although they may send private warnings, which will be ignored as they were with the Media Law. I can see that the judges the European Court of Human Rights are going to be ‘busy little beavers’ with Hungarian affairs. So far they have the Media law which is still being examined by the EU and may yet be referred to them. Then there are the cases about the nationalisation of the pensions’ fund money. The recent introduction of a bill to deny the accused person access to legal advisors for 48 hours after arrest will be a real ‘humdinger’. Now we have this gem of ‘forced labour’ and the separation of people from their families etc.… Read more »
Odin's lost eye

Peter who will this petition be sent to? Raising a petition is one thing, but getting it to the right target is another.
Perhaps it could be sent as a petition to the European Parliament asking for them to examine the actions of the present Hungarian Government and to see that in the event of the European Court of Human Rights finding against the Hungary the fines, costs and damages should be paid Not by the Nation but by the legislators who voted for the bill.
There is a precedent for this from the U.K. If a local council passes something which in the judgement of the District Auditor is illegal or which results in the council losing money, then those councillors who voted for the motion can be surcharged for the whole cost of their actions.


Odin’s lost eye: There is a precedent for this from the U.K. If a local council passes something which in the judgement of the District Auditor is illegal or which results in the council losing money, then those councillors who voted for the motion can be surcharged for the whole cost of their actions.
The same is in the Netherlands it is called personal responsibility and/or mismanagement. In both cases the persons and not the organisation are responsible. And the persons have to pay for damages.
This concept is not introduced in Hungary, but it is in the EU.


Odin: Kirsten this idea of Forced Labour is directly contravenes Article 4 section 2 of the Charter of Human Rights.
It is actually article 5.


@Mutt “I’m confused with this part: how will they tell the “actively looking” people and the “coming from welfare” people apart?”
Jobbik will do that very easily by defining them on ethnical terms. As soon as Magyars are concerned, they’ll make big noise (“zsidesz is sending honest and hardworking magyars to the gulag, along with the criminal parasites on the body of the nation” etcpp) and gain support. This is social dynamite.

Odin's lost eye

Ron thank the version you refer to is the ‘Nice version of 2000’. I was quoteing from the ‘Strasbourg version of 1966’. The words are virtualy the same but the Article numbers differ.
I beleive that there was a later version which dealt with some abuses discovered in civil court actions. I think it was promolgated at Lisbon.
I think Johnney Boy will be peddeling his ‘BUNK-O-MATIC’(© Mutt Damon MMXI) like fury now.


This is mind bending. In 21st century Europe… how is it possible? It is so transparent… reduce unemployemnt figures, cheap labour for the state (and corrupt officials and projects), whilst destroying lives, families, future employment and education propects of a huge swathe of the populatation.
And the most Stalinlike part of it… to be policed! Effectively criminalising people who are subjected to this tyranny.
I bet the Chinese construction/public works/high speed train system (or whatever else is being sold to them during the current state visit) will be built on the cheap through this scheme.
It’s so cheap, dictatorial, dumb, lazy and backward. Typical of the current regime.
Please let there be organised and coordinated protest!


What this law will effectively do is push most people off the unemployment rolls, creating admirable employment statistics and zeroing out the line items for unemployment compensation, which should look good, cosmetically, within the EU. However, the people who have “voluntarily” left the rolls will either work in the black labor market — which means no income taxation, but they’re weren’t going to pay income tax anyway, but also no pension payments, good-luck-to-you-when-you’re-seventy — or emigrate.
Of course, the great shadow behind this is the socialist-era principle of criminalizing unemployment. Once again, the Orban regime is bringing back the worst elements of the socialist system.


It’s a strange paradox that Fidesz harps back to Horthy, but behaves more like Kadar.
This must be doing JB’s head in!


Does anyone know what happens to the people who refuse to comply? Will they be prosecuted and imprisoned? Has anyone filed a complaint with the EU yet?


Today on Two rapporteurs arrive to report on Human Rights in Hungary. What do you think the outcome is going to be?