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Trade Unions

Hungary has a low level of union density – under 10%. Trade unionism is also fragmented, with five confederations, MaSZSZ, SZEF, ÉSZT, LIGA and MOSZ, which compete with one another in some areas.


Figures from the 2015 Hungarian labour force survey indicate that 329,000 of the employed workforce are in trade unions, equivalent to 9.0% of all employees.[1] The unions themselves report having significantly more than this – around 400,000, and one reason is that the confederations, especially those which emerged from the union confederation SZOT, which was in existence before 1989 (see below), have a proportion of members who are pensioners.


The five confederations are:

  • MaSZSZ (110,000 members);
  • LIGA (100,200 members);
  • ÉSZT (76,000 members); [2]
  • SZEF (59,000 members); and
  • MOSZ – also known as Munkástanácsok (50,000 members).


These figures are not official figures but provided by the confederations themselves and in the case of ÉSZT and MOSZ  are likely to be an overestimate, as they date from 2014. There are also a number of independent unions outside the confederations.


The five confederations have different histories. Two, SZEF and ÉSZT, emerged as reformed organisations from the unified trade union confederation SZOT, which existed before 1989. MaSZSZ, was created as the result of a merger in 2015 between two confederations, MSZOSZ and ASZSZ, (see below) which had also emerged from SZOT. However, two, LIGA and MOSZ, grew out of a combination of anti-communist activists and local protest movements.


The divisions between the three reformed trade union confederations are essentially that they cover different parts of the economy. MaSZSZ represents workers in manufacturing, transport, energy and private services, while SZEF and ÉSZT cover public service employees, both those with special status as civil servants and normal employees. The difference between the two confederations is that ÉSZT organises employees in higher education and research institutes only, while SZEF organises public service employees in health, social services, other parts of education and local and central government.


LIGA and MOSZ both represent workers across the economy in both the public and private sectors, and are in competition for members, both with one another and with the reformed unions.


All five confederations have industry-based unions affiliated to them. MaSZSZ has 31 affiliated unions, including the metalworkers’ union VASAS, the mining and energy workers’ union BDSZ, which also has members in the clothing and textile industries, and the chemical workers’ union VDSZ. These unions are grouped in nine industry and service sectors. SZEF has 12 affiliated unions, including one of the teachers’ unions (PSZ) and the nursery workers’ union (BDDSZ).[3] ÉSZT has eight affiliates, of which the largest is FDSZ, which organises employees in higher education, including teachers, researchers and administrative staff.


LIGA and MOSZ present the information in a different way on their websites, with both stating that they have almost 100 member organisations, although they do not list their affiliates.


There have been major differences between the confederations, particularly between the reformed confederations on one side and LIGA and MOSZ on the other. This has been particularly noticeable in their relations with the FIDESZ party, led by Viktor Orbán, which has been in power in Hungary since 2010.


In 2006 and 2007, the fact that LIGA and MOSZ supported demonstrations and organised strikes against the austerity policies of the socialist-liberal government at a time of overall political unrest led to a strengthening of links between LIGA and FIDESZ.[4] Following the election of 2010, which produced a landslide win for FIDESZ and its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Party KDNP, the new government introduced a revised Labour Code that weakened the position of unions. LIGA and MOSZ continued to negotiate with the government, while the other confederations were not included in the discussions, and the existing tripartite structure was dismantled. Although MSZOSZ (now part of MaSZSZ and at that time the largest of the reformed confederations) later joined LIGA and MOSZ in discussions on the proposed new Labour Code, and finally signed an agreement on a revised version with them, the reformed confederations continued to believe that the government gave preference to LIGA.[5]


This was one of the main reasons why three of the reformed confederations, MSZOSZ, another industrial confederation ASZSZ and the public sector confederation SZEF, announced in May 2013 that they planned to merge. Their “unification statement” specifically referred to the “divisive” policy of some governments towards the unions, and said that since 2010 the FIDESZ-led government had given “exclusive preference” to some unions, while others were “ignored”.[6]


In fact, in the end only two of the three confederations, MSZOSZ and ASZSZ, finally agreed to merge, with the congress of the third confederation, SZEF, narrowly voting against a merger in November 2014. In addition, a number of unions within MSZOSZ and ASZSZ, including the postal workers’ union, were unhappy with the merger plans and switched confederation to LIGA or became independent.[7] As a result, MaSZSZ, the new confederation which result from the merger (completed in February 2015), included many fewer members than initially planned.


The years since the merger have seen some of examples of cooperation between the confederations, but also ongoing differences. In 2016, all five confederations issued a joint statement protesting against government plans to close a number of professional government-linked institutions.[8] In 2017, there was further joint lobbying of the government, with a common push for pay increases at state-owned companies, and it seemed as though a strategy might be emerging of using the two confederations with the best links to the government – MOSZ and LIGA – to push for jointly agreed objectives. [9]


However, in 2018 and 2019, the differences between the confederations became more evident over three separate issues: legislation changing the taxation of some non-wage benefits (the so-called cafeteria law), where a joint position had been agreed, but the leadership of MOSZ and LIGA then held separate meetings with the government; an agreement increasing the national minimum wage, which was signed at the end of 2018 by MOSZ and LIGA but not by MaSZSZ; and new legislation on overtime, dubbed the “Slave Act”, which led to a series of major demonstrations, which were backed by MaSZSZ, SZEF and ÉSZT and some individual unions, but not supported by MOSZ.[10]


These policy differences coupled sometimes with personal and organisational disputes led some unions to change their allegiances in 2018, with a police union FRSZ leaving LIGA for MOSZ, while teachers’ union PDSZ left LIGA without joining another confederation.[11]


In formal terms, the confederations emphasise their political neutrality. The merger document of MaSZSZ states that it “does not carry out direct political activities, is independent of parties and does not provide financial support to them”.[12] LIGA lists “independence from political parties” as one of its principle values in its statutes.[13] SZEF states on its website that, it is “open to dialogue with all political parties and other organisations… but does not commit itself to any political force”.[14]  And ÉSZT describes “party political independence” as a basic founding principle of the organisation.[15]  MOSZ is slightly different as it states that its policies are based on Christian values.[16]


Union membership declined sharply over the 1990s and the decline has not ended. The labour force survey figures show a continuing fall in overall union density since the start of the millennium dropping from 19.7% in 2001 to 16.9% in 2004, 12.0% in 2009 and 9.0% in 2015.[17]


There are, however, significant differences between industries in in terms of union organisation, with the highest density rates in the energy industry (electricity, gas and steam) at 29.0%, transportation and storage – 22.3%, education – 19.0%, health – 17.7% and mining and quarrying – 16.7%. Unusually public administration is not among this group. Union density here is only just above average at 10.7%.One reason for this is that the Ministry of the Interior ended the automatic deduction of union subscriptions by the employer (the check-off system).[18] Between 2009 and 2015 union density in public administration halved from 22.4% to 10.7%.  


Union density is higher among women – at 9.3% – than among men – at 8.8%.

[1] HCSO, Labour Force Survey 2015. II. quarterly supplementary survey

https://www.ksh.hu/stadat_evkozi_9_1 (Accessed 01.08.2019)

[2] Other than the LIGA figures which come from the LIGA Website http://www.liganet.hu/page/2/html/kik-vagyunk.html (Accessed 01.08.2019), the source of the figures is Annual Review 2018 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Hungary, by László Neumann, FES 2019 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/15357.pdf (Accessed 01.08.2019). The figure from the SZEF website https://szef.hu/rolunk/kik-vagyunk (Accessed 01.08.2019), relating to 2015 is 70,000

[3] Union websites MaSZSZ:  https://www.szakszervezet.net/hu/tagszervezetek  SZEF: https://szef.hu/tagszervezetek-es-retegszervezetek/tagszervezetek ÉSZT: https://www.eszt.hu/rolunk/szervezetunk/tagszervezeteink.html

[4] See: Tóth, András: The collapse of the post-socialist industrial relations system in Hungary. SEER, 2013. No. 1. pp 5-19

[5] See The New Hungarian Labour Code - Background, Conflicts, Compromises by András Tóth, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Budapest, 2012

[6] See Unification statement http://www.autonomok.hu/hirek/unification_statement/

[7] Hungary - labour relations and social dialogue annual review 2014 by Ildikó Krén, FES 2015 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/11547.pdf (Accessed 04.08.2019) and Hungary - labour relations and social dialogue annual review 2015 by Ildikó Krén FES 2016 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/12444.pdf (Accessed 04.08.2019)

[8] Annual Review 2016 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Hungary, by László Neumann, FES 2017 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/13196.pdf (Accessed 04.08.2019)

[9] Annual Review 2017of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Hungary, by László Neumann, FES 2018 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/14470.pdf  (Accessed 04.08.2019)

[10] Annual Review 2018 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Hungary, by László Neumann, FES 2019 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/15357.pdf (Accessed 01.08.2019).

[11] ibid

[12] MaSZSZ website – Foundation https://www.szakszervezet.net/hu/rolunk/a-szovetseg-celja (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[13] LIGA Statutes http://www.liganet.hu/news/5543/ASZ_2017.nov.30.pdf (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[14] SZEF website – Who are we? https://szef.hu/rolunk/kik-vagyunk (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[15] ÉSZT website – History https://www.eszt.hu/rolunk/tortenelem.html (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[16] MOSZ website – Who we are https://munkastanacsok.hu/about/ (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[17] See Szakszervezeti stratégia és megújulás (Trade union strategy and renewal) by Ágnes Szabó-Morvai, November 2010 and HCSO, Labour Force Survey 2015. II. Quarterly supplementary survey

https://www.ksh.hu/stadat_evkozi_9_1 (Accessed 08.08.2019)

[18] See Neglected by the state: the Hungarian experience of collective bargaining by Szilvia Borbély and László Neumann in Collective bargaining in Europe: towards an endgame, edited by Torsten Müller, Kurt Vandaele and Jeremy Waddington, ETUI, 2019

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.