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Flexibility problematic for Hungarian electronics workers

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Wages too low to support a family, circumvention of overtime payments violating international standards, 12-hour shifts and temporary agency workers exceeding the number of permanent workers in times of peak production. Many of the labour issues well-known from factories in South-east Asia are also found in Hungary. This is the main conclusion from the latest makeITfair report “The Flex Syndrome” which examines labour conditions at Samsung, Nokia, Flextronics and Foxconn.

The Flex Syndrome

The report shows that the flexibility provided by law heavily draws on Hungarian production workers. The sector doesn’t bring well-paid jobs to the country. Basic wages for the lowest income earners in Hungary (€ 231) are almost the same as those paid in China (€ 224). Zsófia Perényi of the Association of Conscious Consumers (ACC):

“Even employees with the highest incomes are not able to earn enough for their families, even if both parents are working. Most earn less than the average net monthly earnings of manual workers in the manufacturing sector in Hungary.”

Working conditions too demanding

Other problems previously well-know from Asian production countries also occur at the researched companies in Hungary: the physically demanding 12-hour day and night shifts, the high number of temporary agency workers, the corresponding job insecurity and obstruction to set up a trade union in one case. At one company working conditions proved to be too demanding: several times a week the ambulance from the local hospital had to come to pick up workers who fainted and suffered from symptoms of fatigue, high blood pressure and stress.

Working weeks up to 72 hours

Hungary has become the most important electronics manufacturing country in Central and Eastern Europe. It attracts investment by tax incentives and subsidies and by easing labour laws to fulfil the flexibility needs of foreign manufacturing companies. Hungarian law allows companies to use the so-called ‘time-bank system’ by which working hours are calculated as an average within a longer time period. With the time-bank system, the employer has more flexibility in assigning working days, distributing overtime work and thus compensating for overtime hours within a specific time period. The system legitimises long working weeks up to 72 hours where it can happen that no overtime is paid. This is in conflict with international standards and also the biggest frustration of those interviewed working for Samsung, Nokia, Flextronics and Foxconn in Hungary.

EU-citizens, but not protected

Although Hungarian production workers are EU-citizens, they are not sufficiently protected by law. Irene Schipper, project coordinator of makeITfair observes:

“International brands operating in Hungary should comply with international labour standards if those offer better protection and pay all hours exceeding the 40-hour working week at an overtime rate. Also, companies should pay a living wage and shouldn’t use temporary workers on a regular basis for the long term”.

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