This is favoritism

The 2012 budget for the public works program is 140-150 billion forints. Earlier we spoke with Vera Messing, researcher for both the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Sociology and Central European University, regarding the specifics and effects of the public works program.

In the film below, you can hear from individuals affected by the public works program.  Interviews from both workers within the program and experts on the subject are included.  

For English subtitles: start the video and click on the "cc" button!

While minority ombudsman, Ernő Kállai observed that certain new regulations instituted in 2011, such as the wages established for public workers that are significantly lower than the minimum wage, are in danger of resulting in human rights violations. Lately, while working in northeastern Hungary, the field workers of the HCLU have observed that the dangers inherent in the regulations are effectively violating the human rights of the public workers in many settlements.

The stereotype that the people in these settlements do not want to work is false. They do not have any work opportunities other than public works projects. They will accept any job, for essentially any payment.

The situation is made even more problematic by the new regulation instituted in 2011 stating that if someone is offered an opportunity to join the public works program, and (regardless of their qualifications) they do not accept, or they are fired, then they lose their welfare eligibility for three years. This makes people completely vulnerable and defenseless. The work provider, namely the local government, wields overwhelming control over them.

One of the most significant practical problems is that the worker’s rights of the employed are often violated while completing public works. While the state and local government expect work providers to follow regulations relating to their position under normal circumstances, these rules are often neglected in public work projects by the state and local governments themselves.

Systematically, public workers are not provided with tools and protective gear. They are forced to work with their own tools while they are threatened with the loss of their job.

Another problematic practice is the continuous recording of the workers by their work providers throughout their workday. It is very common for workers to receive their pay much later than they should. The local government does not provide any explanation, and does not even state when the wages should be expected. Of course, there are settlements where the system in place functions well, because workers are treated with respect, the work morale is high, and people are not worried for their livelihoods.

Discrimination is encoded into the system, because the heads of local government are the ones who decide who they will provide with work, and also the form of employment. In smaller settlements, personal conflicts are often brought up in these situations, and the discrimination is often based on ethnicity and political differences.

“The law is always a final solution. It is difficult, and requires a lot of time. Nevertheless, if in a few cases we can pinpoint specific problems, then it will help in the future so that they might not occur in new public works projects-” states Erika Muhi, executive director of The Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), in our film. NEKI has agreed to handle legal cases regarding the public works program. They work on specific cases, and submissions to the HCLU requesting legal aid or representation will be forwarded to NEKI.

Eszter Jovánovics and Melinda Zsolt, HCLU


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