Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is known for his tough stance on immigration. However, due to the lack of local workers and in light of new industrial developments, Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is opening the country’s doors to hundreds of so-called “guest workers” from developing countries.
A group of cheerful women greeted us as they exited an unnamed factory at the end of their shift. They recently arrived from the Philippines, on a two-year contract.
We followed them to the accommodation provided by their direct employer, a Hungarian recruitment company, which provides them with a food allowance.
“This place is very nice, it has all the appliances,” Monette said, walking through the storage room. She arrived last May: “It’s very convenient to work here because you get your salary for yourself.”
When asked how the local population was reacting to their presence, she and her friends responded firmly that they had been well received. “We have not heard any discrimination against! The people are warm and friendly, we feel welcome and at home in Hungary!” said Monette.
Last spring, Viktor Orbán declared that the country would need to create half a million new jobs in the coming years, admitting that foreign labor was necessary.
An estimated 700,000 Hungarians have left the country to work abroad, mainly in Western European countries, as a result the local workforce has shrunk.
“Due to the growing demand for investment, Hungarian companies are increasingly looking for labor from abroad,” said Ákos Jáhny, CEO of a Hungarian recruitment company that hires hundreds of workers abroad every month, mainly in Asia.
A trend that worries the head of the Hungarian Federation of Chemical Workers: “Wages are the same for Hungarian workers and those from developing countries. Since employers have to pay for guest workers’ accommodation and food, Hungarians lose out. And it makes salary negotiations much more difficult.”
The topic is a sensitive one in Hungary, where a new law will make it easier for guest workers to enter the country.
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There are large industrial projects at stake, particularly in the electric battery sector. We went to the city of Göd, where the Korean giant Samsung has set up a huge battery factory. The company did not respond to our requests for interviews. But the local population is up in arms.
“The main problem is the noise and the impact this has on the environment,” said a resident of a nearby neighborhood, who wished to remain anonymous. “And they turned a house in this neighborhood into a hostel for guest workers. They shout a lot, they spit in the street… Their culture is not compatible with our living environment,” he added.
A different atmosphere awaited us further south, in the town of Kistelek. We visited one of the Prysmian factories of the Italian-Hungarian electrical cable giant.
Firman was one of around 60 Indonesian workers hired by the company after it failed to find enough local labour. “Even though working here is hard, I think it’s nice because everyone here always helps me,” Firman said enthusiastically.
“They support our professional development and provide us with Hungarian language courses. And I learned a lot about leadership. I think I’ll have a lot of opportunities here.”
Firman and his Indonesian colleagues quickly earned the respect of their Hungarian colleagues. “We were worried, but after a few days everyone changed their minds. I have been here for 40 years and he will also be here for 40 years” said Tio Prosetyo, one of the team leaders of the Prysmian Group, pointing to Firman.
“I think this is the future,” concluded Tiago Fontela Campelo, head of human resources for the group in Hungary. “We intend to expand this experience across Europe. We will increasingly see this type of cooperation in other European companies.”