Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is planning to introduce amendments to existing labour legislation. Yet even before lawmakers have had a chance to vote on these later in the week — workers and trade unionists have taken to the streets in Budapest to protest the moves. Sent to Parliament last week, the draft bill paves the way for employers to request up to 400 hours of overtime in a year; up from current levels of 250 hours. The net result being an extra eight working hours every week or else the advent of a six-day working week. Yet the controversy does not end there. If passed into law, the new framework would count total overtime over a three-year period. Meaning that anyone leaving a particular job of his or her own accord or otherwise within this timeframe risks losing their dues. Opposition to these recommendations was to be expected. After all, Hungarians are already the lowest wage-earners in Europe. And now they are being sent the message that instead of seeing remuneration increasing in line with living standards — the labour force must itself be prepared to pay for any salary hikes with boosts in output. For at least three years at a time. Thus there is a reason that this has been termed a new ‘slavery law’. Many of the demonstrators wore yellow jackets in recognition of the French agitators that took on the Macron government over increases in fuel prices. What is happening in Budapest has prompted pundits in the West to talk of a return to the so-called Iron Curtain of the Cold War years. Indeed, they have linked this to how the Central European University (CEU) — the George Soros-founded and -financed post-graduate school — was recently ordered to leave the country over reported differences in political ideology. Be that as it may, both France and Hungary are EU members. And the presence of protestors underscores how the democratic tradition remains a vibrant one among citizenries. Sadly, the same cannot be said when it comes to those at the helm. For economic self-determination and academic freedom are fundamental rights; in accordance with international human rights norms. Just as indentured labour is not. That this is happening within Fortress Europe’s borders represents a point of immense shame for the soon-to-be 27-member bloc. It also undermines the EU position in terms of berating countries like Pakistan for failure to enforce national labour laws as well as current crackdowns on civil liberties. But more than anything, such developments should send a warning to Prime Minister Imran Khan to be as transparent as possible on the matter of bailout package terms and conditions; whether from friendly nations or the IMF itself. Not least because this country’s economy is far more fragile than either that of Budapest or Paris. Meaning that potential fallouts could be far more damaging overall. * Published in Daily Times, December 10th 2018.