Employment agencies with ties to the governing Fidesz-party – known for its xenophobic and anti-immigration campaigning – are recruiting migrant workers overseas on behalf of Hungarian employers. Recruiters taking advantage of a recent legislation include a business partner of MEP Tamás Deutsch’s brother and the vice-president of the publicly funded Rákóczi Szövetség, a cross-border cultural organization working with ethnic Hungarians.
This article was originally published on atlatszo.hu
In 2021, the Hungarian parliament, controlled by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party passed a bill that simplifies the process of HR companies recruiting migrant workers from countries outside the EU. The new law allows select companies (who were subsequently awarded the title “qualified temporary employment agency”, a total of 25 companies) to hire workers from third countries without the permit usually required for such recruitments.
Employers in Hungary are affected by a severe labor shortage. Many companies were thus quick to seize the opportunity: in the last two years, many companies have announced that they are filling their vacancies with foreign workers, mainly from neighboring countries outside the EU (Ukraine, Serbia) and Asian countries (India, Philippines, Indonesia, Kazakhstan).
Unsurprisingly, after years of inflammatory xenophobic government campaigns (which, among other things insinuated that foreigners would “take the jobs” of Hungarians), the import of ‘migrants’ has provoked strong feelings.
In the small town of Hajdúszoboszló, for example, according to a report by Telex, the news of a company opening a migrant workers’ center sparked mass hysteria: social media posts by locals expressed fears that foreigners are obviously going to “kill and rape”. The mayor of the town (an independent politician who got elected with Fidesz backing) also fueled the outrage by threatening property owners providing accommodation for migrant workers.
Who are compatible with the Hungarians?
A typical advert promoting the employment of migrant workers reads: “Is your company facing a severe labour shortage? Here’s the solution! Borrow Filipino workers and boost production!” The ad is found on the website of Jobtain HR Services Ltd., one of the “qualified temporary employment agencies”.
The site also includes a message from the company’s CEO, Magdolna Mihályi, on why they propose to hire Filipino migrant workers.
“In recent years, we have done a lot of research on which nation or country’s people are the closest to the European population in terms of culture, outlook and adaptability, and it was in light of this that we finally chose the Philippines,” writes Jobtain’s CEO.
Publicly, Magdolna Mihályi is better known as the vice-head of one of the most active cultural organizations in Hungary, the Rákóczi Association (Hungarian: Rákóczi Szövetség). The stated goal of the organization is to strengthen Hungarian national identity. Its main target demographic are young people, including youth from Hungary and among ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring states.
Regionally the Association is known for its summer camps in Transylvania and Slovakia, which hosted speeches by Fidesz politicians. This year’s speaker for example was president of the parliament László Kövér.
The association receives generous grants from the state budget. According to last year’s report (available from the birosag.hu search engine), they received €6.5 million (HUF 2.5 billion) and €6.1 million (HUF 2.36 billion) in 2021 and 2020 respectively.
Jobtain, as Magdolna Mihályi told Átlátszó, has been in the temporary employment business for 20 years, but for a very long time they have only helped Hungarian people find work with their partner companies.
“In 2015, we were employing Hungarians from Szeklerland [ethnic Hungarian-majority part of Transylvania, Romania]. In 2016, the government opened the doors to recruitment outside the EU (Ukraine, Serbia) for the first time, so in the last seven years we have built up a recruitment network covering the whole of Ukraine, and since then we have been continuously recruiting hiring and accommodating Ukrainian workers,” said the company’s CEO.
When asked by Átlátszó, Magdolna Mihályi explained why the company found Filipino workers compatible with Hungarians.
“As a certified employer, we first analyzed the international experience with workers from the target countries and thoroughly examined the criteria that are important for employment and integration. It is very important that a citizen from a distant country, for example the Philippines, does not only work in Hungary, but also goes shopping, runs errands, plays sports and has fun like any other person. In this respect, the successful adaptation to the local community has made Filipinos an ideal choice in many respects: they are Christian, speak good English, are family-oriented, disciplined, hard-working and open to European culture. Our preliminary research is backed up by our real-life experience over the past 1 year, as we have recruited nearly 1,000 Filipino workers to our partners so far, and the feedback on the work and civic life is very positive.”
She added that they plan to lend 500 to 600 more employees to their partners by the end of the year. Asked whether it is possible to organize cultural programs for foreign workers in the future, Magdolna Mihályi replied:
“It is really important for me to promote of Hungarian cultural values, both at home and abroad. I am happy to see that our foreign workers are very proactive and active in the local community life: they perform their own shows at folklore festivals, play basketball matches with locals. I consider it a priority that all our employees – regardless of their nationality – feel at home here, and we are happy to support our colleagues from third countries in getting to know Hungarian culture.”
Current importer denounced foreign labor
Other government-linked business circles have also seen an opportunity in recruiting migrant workers. Prohumán HR company, which is linked to the business circles of the brother of Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch, apparently registered with the Philippine Overseas Employment Office, where it is currently looking for welders.
The CEO of Prohumán Ltd., Sándor Zakor, is mainly known for his connection with the football club MTK: Zakor took over the position of the football club’s CEO from Péter Deutsch, brother of Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch in 2017. Since 2019 he has been the sole owner of the corporation running the MTK football team, while Tamás Deutsch continues to hold the position of the chairman of the MTK Sports Association.
Prohumán also took Átlátszó’s attention after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when refugees started arriving to Hungary. During the crisis, the Prohumán group was the only HR agency allowed to advertise job vacancies at the BOK sports hall in Budapest, a transit station for asylum seekers. Exactly how and from whom they were given the opportunity to advertise at the transit station is unclear, as the state bodies running the transit denied any links with the company.
Additionally, József Dávid Szabó, who oversees international relations at Prohumán and is also a political analyst, has ironically spoken out against the import of “migrant” labor in pro-government media. In 2017, he gave a speech on cross-border labour at the Tusnádfürdő Free University, where he said immigration in the EU was driven by “the business interests of global tech companies, which at one point seemed to coincide with the hunger for labour in German manufacturing.”
In 2018 Szabó sharply criticised the UN’s migration package for encouraging economic migration, and in 2020, he lashed out at “Brussels allies of George Soros” and “NGOs providing taxi for migrants” over the EU recovery fund.
Diversity training for Ukrainians
Another company, PannonJob Human Services and Consulting Ltd., a part of the Videoton Holding also recruits workers from the Philippines, as well as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. The CEO of Videoton Holding is the 8th richest man in Hungary, Gábor Széles, who was a well-known political figure associated with the Orbán governments between 2010 and 2018: he owned pro-government media corporations and sponsored pro-Fidesz rallies.
PannonJob’s current ad for temporary employment says that they have been organizing foreign workers to Hungary since 2017, the first time they invited people from Ukraine.
“Based on our years of experience in recruiting and employing Ukrainian workers and our well-established processes, recruitment is always carried out by local subcontractors in all of the above countries, but professional, personalised pre-screening is always the responsibility of PannonJob,” they write. “Our company offers a full service to our clients, from recruiting the right staff, through pre-screening, travel and accommodation to integration support.”
The issue of cultural differences comes up here too, and the company presents a very progressive picture.
“In our view, the integration of foreign workers into the domestic work environment is a key issue. Understanding the cultural differences between the host country and the newcomers will greatly help them to integrate successfully and work effectively in the future. In this context, our company’s organisational development business has developed a programme focusing on integration cooperation.”
The programme could be called sensitivity or diversity training in large international companies. Among its points are:
“Understanding the process of encountering foreign cultures, leadership development, communication strategy in an intercultural company, protocol and communication in different cultures (verbal and non-verbal communication peculiarities, time management, interpersonal distance, addressing, basic negotiation rules).”
The Videoton factories also employ migrant workers themselves. At a press conference at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the co-director of Videoton Holding, Ottó Sinkó, said that Videoton employed about 200 Ukrainian citizens, and the number of workers on loan from Pannonjob exceeded 1,000, and that they planned to increase capacity because of the war.
In April this year, Sándor Czomba, the state secretary responsible for employment policy, handed over a new workers’ hostel in Székesfehérvár to accommodate foreign employees of Videoton. At the inauguration, Czomba said, Videoton won a total of 182 million forints in a tender for the construction of the hostels.
The hostel, which was inaugurated on that occasion, accommodates 196 workers, mostly of Ukrainian nationality. The state secretary also said that in the coming years “another 500,000 workers will be needed in Hungary because of the investments to be made.”
At the same time, Videoton executives also partly criticised the investments – specifically the battery factories – that require the recruitment of migrant workers. Péter Lakatos, co-CEO of Videoton Holding, told 24.hu in February that Hungary should be made attractive to industries whose arrival would benefit Hungarian businesses, but the battery industry is not one of them.
Written and translated by Zalán Zubor, the Hungarian version of this story is available here.
Featured photo: VSQUARE
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Zalán Zubor began working at Atlatszo.hu in 2022. Zubor covers topics related to Russian influence in Hungary and corresponding security risks, as well as the Hungarian government’s stance on the war in Ukraine and refugees in Hungary.