Thousands of people joined fresh protests in Budapest against the Prime Minster Victor Orban's "slave law" which allows businesses to impose a massive amount of overtime on workers.

Demonstrators hold flares outside the Presidential Palace during a protest against a proposed new labor law, billed as the
Demonstrators hold flares outside the Presidential Palace during a protest against a proposed new labor law, billed as the "slave law", in Budapest, Hungary on December 21, 2018 (Reuters)

Several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of the Hungarian capital Budapest late on Friday, as right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban dismissed a wave of protests against a new labour reform as "hysterical shouting."

The protests, which started last week, have given the country's fragmented opposition a chance to work together as they challenge Orban, who has led the country with increasing powers since 2010.

The satiric Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party hosted a downtown march on Friday night in the Hungarian capital with speeches, chants and signs critical of Orban.

One sign said "I want to give birth to a stadium," poking fun at two of Orban's preoccupations: Increasing the nation's birthrate and filling the country with white-elephant sports facilities.

Protesters gathered outside Parliament and marched to the offices of President Janos Ader in Buda Castle to rebuke him for signing the labor changes as well as other legislation creating a new court system under government control.

The new courts will hear most cases involving the state, from taxation issues to electoral disputes, so having them under government control creates a sharp conflict of interest and reduces their independence.

Centralised Control

Since returning to power eight years ago, Orban has been reshaping Hungary. New laws governing the media and churches have been enacted while the state has an ever-increasing presence in all walks of life, from industry to the arts and sports.

With unorthodox policies, Orban's governments have sought to centralise control and shore up the Hungarian economy, which a decade ago needed to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund. 

His Fidesz party remains popular, securing a third consecutive two-thirds majority in April.

Emboldened by his latest big majority in parliament, Orban has forced a Budapest-based university founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros to move most of its programs to Vienna. 

He retains his fiery rhetoric against migrants and has refused to join a new European Union public prosecutor's office focusing on fraud and corruption.

However, the recent protests have invigorated the opposition.

The catalyst for the protests was a new labor code dubbed the "slave law" by critics and approved by lawmakers on December 12. 

It would increase the number of over time hours employers could ask workers to put in voluntarily, essentially bringing back a six-day work week, and allow overtime payments to remain unpaid for up to three years.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies