Hungary MPs thrown out of TV office over ‘slave laws’ protest


Two Hungarian lawmakers have been thrown out of the state TV headquarters after they tried to broadcast a petition against new labour laws.

A video showed one of the MPs trying to climb over a stair banister, before being dragged out of the building.

Several MPs camped out at the TV office overnight, in protest against what they called the government’s “slave laws”.

New rules mean companies can demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for it for three years.

Hungary has seen five days of street protests against the reforms, with about 10,000 people rallying in Budapest on Sunday.

Such demonstrations are rare in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies enjoy widespread support, despite repeated condemnation from other EU nations.

The government says the labour reform will benefit workers as well as companies who need to fill a labour shortage.

What happened at the TV headquarters?

About a dozen opposition lawmakers spent the night at the offices of Hungary’s main news channel, MTVA, trying to get a list of demands broadcast on air.

On Monday morning, independent MPs Bernadette Szel and Akos Hadhazy tried to circumvent guards, and were wrestled out of the building.

Ms Szel streamed the incident live on Facebook.

Since they were ejected, other opposition MPs have taken their places inside the building, and the standoff continues, the BBC’s Nick Thorpe reports from Budapest.

Meanwhile, anti-government protests have continued outside the office.

What do the protesters want?

The protests have been led by trade unionists and students.

They have demanded that the new labour law be withdrawn, and called for an independent judiciary, independent public media, and for Hungary to join the EU Public Prosecutor’s Office.

One protester, student Lukacs Hayes, described the new labour law as “involuntary overtime”.

While the government says any overtime is voluntary, “that doesn’t leave the ones that don’t want to do overtime in a very good place in terms of the company that will give work for them,” Mr Hayes told the BBC.

In elections earlier this year, the prime minister’s Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliament, making it relatively easy to gain approval for his policies.

Why does the government say reforms are needed?

The government says the laws address a serious labour shortage. The country’s unemployment rate, at 4.2% in 2017, is one of the lowest in the EU.

Hungary’s population has been in decline for years, as deaths outpace births, according to the European statistics agency.

Hungary is also experiencing a “brain drain” as well-educated people take advantage of free movement within Europe. The problem is serious enough to have prompted a 2015 programme to encourage young people to return home, offering housing and employment support.

Fidesz MEP Gyorgy Schopflin told the BBC the reforms had been “heavily distorted by the opposition”.

There was “no coercion” involved in working overtime, and workers would be “paid monthly, not in three years”, he said.

The governing Fidesz party has said the protests are the work of foreign mercenaries paid by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros.

Mr Soros denies this, and says the Hungarian authorities are using him as a scapegoat.

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