The level playing field of Hungarian social partners before and during the COVID-19 pandemic
Case studies from the automotive industry
Keywords:social dialogue, COVID-19, collective action, automotive industry, Hungary
For numerous reasons, social dialogue in Hungary generally does not fulfil its role on the national, sectoral, or workplace level. Social dialogue as a democratic process is dysfunctional, since its institutions and mechanisms are not implemented democratically, and no real dialogue or actual debate take place. Instead, these mechanisms work in a top-down manner – the illiberal state and its central governing bodies expect certain solutions and answers, leaving no scope for transparent democratic dialogue with the relevant social partners. Against this background, in 2019 major strike activity was witnessed in the automotive sector. However, in 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hungarian government deployed its full power by adopting the ‘Authorization Act,’ which allowed the government to introduce significant restrictions, practically without any time limits, any debate in parliament, or guarantee of swift and effective constitutional review. Our research paper investigates these recent developments in social dialogue using a case study, with the aim of understanding the forces underlying the collective action organized in the automotive sector. Our research demonstrates that, due to the lack of institutional guarantees, social dialogue is very fragile in Hungary, and the landslide victory in 2019 was a mere reflection of labour shortages. Our mixed methodology – which combines legal and sociological approaches – is suitable for examining this complex issue; interviews conducted with representatives of labour and employers provide deep insight into motives and action in a circumvented level playing field.
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