Protests Grip Hungary In Response To Overtime Measure That Critics Call A 'Slave Law' The new law allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime — but employers can delay payment for up to three years.

Protests Grip Hungary In Response To Overtime Measure That Critics Call A 'Slave Law'

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, has done a lot to anger advocates for democracy across Europe. His party has rewritten the constitution, shut down most independent media and even created a parallel court system. Through it all, Orban has kept his grip on power. Now, though, Hungarians are riled up over a new law. It's about overtime pay. Joanna Kakissis reports from Budapest.

HANNA MIA KOVESDI AND UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Hallelujah...

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hanna Mia Kovesdi and her best friend are singing at the Christmas market in Budapest for some extra cash. They're teenagers. They say they like Leonard Cohen, not politics. That all changed when the girls heard about Hungary's new labor law. It allows employers to ask their staff for an extra 400 hours of overtime per year and delay payment for up to three years. Hanna Mia Kovesdi thought about her mom.

HANNA MIA KOVESDI: She works so much because she leaves so early in the morning and gets home so late. She does it for so little amount of money, and it's so, so bad.

KAKISSIS: And her mom's a private school teacher. Kovesdi has friends whose parents work in lower-paying jobs at factories or shops or restaurants. She wants to know why politicians want to make them work even more.

HANNA: It's not normal what they do. It's not fair because everybody needs some time to just rest, and everybody needs time to be at home.

KAKISSIS: Now she's protesting along with lots of other Hungarians, like 54-year-old factory worker Pal Mikus.

PAL MIKUS: (Through interpreter) I am here because employers - they're trying to humiliate and exploit Hungarian workers. We are all here to unite.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Viktator, Viktator...

KAKISSIS: And they're uniting against their prime minister, Viktor Orban, the man these protesters call Viktator. That's Viktor and dictator together. A recent public opinion poll shows that most Hungarians disapprove of the overtime legislation which critics call the slave law. Union leader Laszlo Kordas says it shows that Orban and his party have lost touch with regular Hungarians.

LASZLO KORDAS: (Through interpreter) They've clearly never worked in the real world. They've been professional politicians since they got out of college. They don't understand that in a workplace today, employers have all the power, and their employees are badly paid and overworked.

KAKISSIS: Many Hungarians are leaving for jobs in other EU countries like Germany, where wages are better. So Hungary has a labor shortage. Other countries would just recruit immigrants, but Orban has built his political career on slamming immigration. So the prime minister took a risk. Political analyst Gabor Gyori explains.

GABOR GYORI: There is no way to get immigrants, and so then maybe the only way to get the necessary labor to keep the economy growing at the level where it does is to make people work longer. It's fine then. People will get over this.

KAKISSIS: Instead, thousands are angry enough to march in the cold. Orban's chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, calls the protesters vandals and has questioned their morals for demonstrating during the holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GERGELY GULYAS: (Through interpreter) God save Hungary from this open hatred of Christianity and the contempt of Christmas on display.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Hungarian).

KAKISSIS: Yet the demonstrations continue. Some of the protesters hold handmade signs reading, we are Christians, too. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Budapest.

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