BUDAPEST—Viktor Orbán has found himself in something of a bind: Hungary’s growing economy has given him cover to dismiss his detractors, who rail against his moves to weaken the country’s institutions and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. But that same economic boom, paired with a dearth of workers—both homegrown and from abroad—is counterintuitively uniting a political opposition against him.
Orbán has been criticized for what critics say has been his authoritarian dismantling of democratic institutions, as well as for his stance against immigrants. But he has consistently been able to fend off opponents, thanks in large part to Hungary’s economy: The country’s gross domestic product has been growing at an annual rate of more than 4 percent for most of the past two years, unemployment has fallen to a low of 3.6 percent from 11 percent in 2010, and Orbán has enticed foreign companies such as BMW, Daimler, Samsung, and others to build factories here.
At the same time, though, Hungarian workers have continued to move out of the country in search of higher wages abroad. As many as 600,000 Hungarians—equivalent to around 9 percent of the working-age population—work outside of Hungary, and Orbán’s refusal to countenance immigrants filling the void has only made this shortfall more acute. In December, the government rushed legislation through Parliament to try to address this shortage. The new measures give businesses the right to require employees to work up to 400 hours of overtime a year, nearly twice as much as was previously allowed, and demand only that employers pay for that overtime at some point within three years. Simply put, employers can make their employees work more, and not have to pay them until later. The government maintains that these overtime hours remain voluntary and at the discretion of the employee, but many workers and trade unions argue that they have little choice in the matter.