Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is perhaps the most ardent opponent of migrants from the Middle East to the EU. And when his country has faced a need for labor power, he decided to use migrants. However, not from the Mideast, but from Ukraine.
Hungarian Prime Minister’s negative attitude to refugees from the Mideast is already matters of common knowledge. After a wave of migrants, mainly Syrians, swept Europe in 2015, Orban refused to comply with EU quotas for the placement of refugees in his state and built a wall at the southern border to hold back their flow. Despite Brussels condemned this position, the Hungarian government continues to stick to colors. However, later it turned out that the hate of migrants does not apply to migrant workers from neighboring states, the main flow of which comes from Ukraine.
In recent years, a relatively small in terms of population, Hungary (about 10 million) began to experience a demographic crisis. Many able-bodied Hungarians choose the path of labor migration and move to economically developed EU countries (UK, Germany). Realizing that this trend leads to an economic downturn, Orban decides to host migrants from neighboring countries, primarily from Ukraine.
However, this required a number of problems to be solved. A few years ago, the average salary in Hungary was only 400 EUR, in the Czech Republic it amounted to 700 EUR, and 750 EUR in Poland. Realizing that in the country would have to compete for the Ukrainian migrant workers with Poland and the Czech Republic, the Hungarian government tackled the problem. To raise wages in the country, it began attracting foreign investments, aimed at creating new jobs. Daimler, BMW, and several dozen other companies have invested billions of euros in the creation of new and expansion of existing facilities in Hungary. This, in turn, led to competition for human resources and prompted employers not only to raise wages but also to introduce a bunch of other bonuses to lure workers to their factory. The average fee is 200,000 forints (700 USD), free accommodation, meal tickets or money for food, regular homeward journeys at the expense of the employer. And after Ukraine obtained a visa-free regime, the Hungarian employers began to officially employ workers directly during their stay in the country. And these are just the key conditions, offered by the employers.
The latter does not grant indigenous Hungarians any privileges, as is the case with the other European countries. On the contrary, individual employers give preference to Ukrainian workers, because they mostly work more conscientiously, are ready for overtime, and practically do not require protection of their labor rights. No participation in trade unions, collective bargaining, and the like. And if you remember that housing is paid for by employers or intermediary firms and food costs are partially compensated, then it turns out that working conditions are more disadvantageous for the local population. After all, they have to pay for housing or at least utility payments. And they earn on some 70 USD more than the foreign workers. Many Hungarians got out of the situation, also living in hostels from the companies. However, according to the workers themselves, recently, some enterprises have begun to evict Hungarian workers from such hostels in order to make room for the migrant workers. The information is not advertised, and to mitigate the situation, local people are offered temporary monetary compensation for rental housing. However, its size will fluctuate around 350 USD, which would be paid in equal shares for six months. And it is too little compared to rental prices.
Of course, all this does not please the Hungarians themselves. Especially those who actually lost their jobs or working housing due to the priority of the workers in the mines, such as at the Flex plant in Sarvar. So far, relations between the Hungarian and Ukrainian workers, according to the latter, are ordinary. But would they change if the Ukrainians oust the locals from the local enterprises?
Hungarian media reported that Orban was seeking to attract about 100,000 labor migrants to Hungary. The real picture is far from these figures, but there is a tendency to boost. According to Eurostat, in 2017, the influx of Ukrainians to Hungary amounted to more than 70% or 5,600 people. And this is the highest rate among migrants from other countries.
Almost 7,700 people of them indicated the purpose of the visit – employment. And it is also the largest group among the 17,700 official labor migrants in the country.
It is important to understand that counting on the Ukrainian labor migrants, the Hungarian government does not rely on the ethnic Hungarians of Transcarpathia, but on the contrary, on the rest of the Ukrainians. For Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party, it is extremely important to maintain the presence of so-called “foreign Hungarians” in the Transcarpathian region due to a number of both domestic and foreign policy advantages. First of all, ethnic Hungarians, including citizens of Ukraine, who made a significant contribution to the Fidesz victory in last year’s parliamentary elections in Hungary. By the most conservative estimate, more than 30,000 residents of Zakarpattia took part in them. That is almost 2.5% of all residents of the region or 25% of the “foreign Hungarians” of the region. Secondly, the Hungarian government pursues a policy of financial and public support for the latter. Favorable loans, subsidies to teachers and doctors, opening of the new universities, simplified naturalization procedure to Hungarians, etc. And still, under the guise of Hungarian unity policy of the nation, Orban began a conflict with Ukraine because of an alleged infringement of the language rights of the Hungarian national minority.
The fact that Orban is not interested in the labor migration of Hungarians from Ukraine’s Zakarpattia is also indicated by the introduction of free Hungarian language courses in the region. National minorities don’t need it, because they already know the language since childhood. Employers in Hungary themselves no longer require the obligatory knowledge of the language for the recruitment of the foreigners. They simply pay extra 100 USD to those workers who speak both Russian and Hungarian so that they can act as interpreters if necessary. Employment campaign in Hungary, launched at public expense, also had wide geography. From Uzhhorod to Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Kryvy Rih.
And if frankly, if the “foreign Hungarians” of Zakarpattia had a desire to go to work in Europe, they would hardly have chosen Hungary for this. Most of them have dual citizenship, and with a Hungarian passport in their pocket, they can go to any country in the European Union.
Thus, the Ukrainian labor migrants go to Hungary without knowledge of the language and culture, not even suspecting that, perhaps, they claim to take the place of some locals. But the latter are well aware of this. And the stiff anti-Ukrainian rhetoric of Fidesz in the local media can add fuel to the controversy. And here comes the question to the Hungarian authorities. If you are counting on Ukrainian labor migrants in order to save your own economy, then perhaps you should not sharpen the diplomatic scandal with Kyiv and block our Euro-Atlantic aspirations? At least in order not to demonize the Ukrainians in the eyes of Hungarian citizens who work with them side by side.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.