In this edition of Witness, Euronews reporters Valerie Gauriat and Zoltan Siposhegyi speak with foreign nationals in Hungary, hired to make up for the shortage of labourers across the country. Click on the video above to watch their report.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is known for his hard stance on immigration. However, due to the lack of local workers and in the 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 waved at us while coming out of an unnamed factory at the end of their shift. They recently arrived from the Philippines, on a two-year contract.
We followed them to 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”, said Monette, walking through the utility room. She arrived last May: “It’s very convenient to work here because you take the salary for yourself.”
When asked if the local population had reacted to their presence, Monette and her friends were adamant that they were well received: “We haven’t felt discriminated against! People are warm and friendly, we feel welcome and at home in Hungary!”
Last Spring, Viktor Orbán stated that the country would need to create half a million new jobs over the next few years, admitting that foreign labour was needed.
An estimated 700,000 Hungarians have left the country to work abroad, mainly in Western European countries, as a consequence, Hungary is crying out for more workers.
“Due to growing demands in investment, companies in Hungary are increasingly trying to find labour from abroad,” said Ákos Jáhny, the CEO of a Hungarian recruitment firm that hires hundreds of workers abroad each month, mainly in Asia.
It’s a trend that has caused the head of the Hungarian Chemical Workers Federation to worry: “Wages are the same for Hungarian workers and workers from developing countries. Since employers have to pay for guest workers’ accommodation and food, Hungarians are losing out. And it makes wage negotiations much more difficult.”
The topic is a sensitive one in Hungary, where a new law will make it easier to bring guest workers into the country.
At stake are major industrial projects, notably in the electric battery sector. We travelled to the town of Göd, where the Korean giant Samsung has set up a huge battery factory. The firm did not respond to our interview requests. But the local population is up in arms.
“The main issues are the noise and the impact this has on the environment,” said a resident who wanted to stay anonymous. “And they turned a house in this neighbourhood, into a guest workers’ hostel. They scream a lot, they spit in the streets…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 an electric cable factory, owned by the Hungarian-Italian energy giant, Prysmian.
Firman was one of approximately 60 Indonesian workers hired by the company after it failed to find enough local manpower. “Even though working here is hard, I think it’s good because everyone here always helps me,” said Firman enthusiastically.
“They support our career development and they provide us with Hungarian language courses. And I have learned a lot about leadership. I think I will get a lot of opportunities here.”
Firman and his Indonesian colleagues quickly gained the respect of their Hungarian counterparts. “We were worried, but everyone changed their minds after a few days. I’ve been here for 40 years, and he will be here for 40 years as well” said Tio Prosetyo, one of the team leaders at the Prysmian Group, pointing at Firman.
“I think this is the future”, concluded Tiago Fontela Campelo, the group’s Human Resources Manager in Hungary. “We plan to expand this experience throughout Europe. We will see more and more of this kind of cooperation in other European companies”.