Hungary's Orban dismisses labour law protests as 'hysterical'

Budapest (AFP) –


Hungary's right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban dismissed a wave of protests against a new labour reform as "hysterical shouting" Friday, but a new poll suggested most Hungarians disapproved of the law.

In a weekly interview with public radio, Orban said that his Fidesz party "simply wants to get rid of silly rules so that those who want to earn more can work more".

The reform -- dubbed a "slave law" by opponents -- was signed into law by President Janos Ader on Thursday and hikes the amount of overtime that employers can demand from 250 to 400 hours per year.

Orban said in the interview that employees will be paid for overtime at the end of each month, but the text of the law allows employers to delay payment by up to three years.

The reform has sparked fierce protests since MPs approved it on 12 December, with the rallies backed by an unusually broad swathe of the opposition and by trade unions.

Orban insisted that "this law is a good law, we have to judge it on how it works in practice".

"We heard this same hysterical shouting when we threw the IMF out of Hungary, when we cut taxes or introduced the public works programme, the opposition cried: 'Slave!'," he added.

He also repeated the government's accusation that the "most aggressive protestors are paid by George Soros," the liberal Hungarian-born US billionaire and a favoured target of Orban's government.

According to a poll published by the Publicus company on Friday, more than two-thirds of Hungarians thought the protests were justified and that the overtime law would hurt workers' interests.

A fresh demonstration has been organised for Friday evening in the capital Budapest, starting outside parliament and ending at the president's official residence on the other side of the Danube.

Organisers are hoping turnout will exceed the 15,000 people who gathered on Sunday in the biggest protest thus far since the law was passed.