Some 50 people joined a hunger march against poverty that left Miskolc in Hungary’s impoverished northeast on Monday. A further 40 left Nyíregyháza, planning to cover on foot by 11 February the 230 kilometres to Budapest, where they aim to join marchers from Miskolc and a dozen other towns including Ózd and Polgár in the northeast and Kaposvár, Békéscsaba, Szeged and Sellye in the south.
“The marchers will demand work and bread with such loud voices that the windows of the Parliament will shake” this Monday 11 February, the first day of Parliament’s spring session, Socialist MP István Nyakó said.
The marchers, mostly unemployed people organised by the Union of Public Workers and the Bread, Work and Fair Wages Association, are protesting against depressed living circumstances, high utility costs, growing tax burdens and a poor employment market.
They have been joined by members of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which is demanding higher wages for public work scheme participants, changes to tax rules and a return to the labour code and welfare system in place at the time of the current Fidesz government coming into office.
Head of Kaposvár Socialists’ Association Attila Pintér said the MSZP agrees with the Union of Public Workers that the monthly wage of HUF 60,200 (EUR 211) for those employed on public work projects should be increased.
Nándor Gúr, MSZP deputy leader and one of the marchers, told state news agency MTI that over four million Hungarians, including many children, live below the poverty line and that the government’s promises of job creation have come to nothing.
The government is raising monthly wages for unskilled public work scheme participants to HUF 75,000 (EUR 255) and for the skilled to HUF 96,800 (EUR 326), Fehérgyarmat Fidesz mayor Attila Tilki countered, accusing the Socialists of “using the poor” for “petty” campaign purposes. A first hunger march took place last year when protesters left the impoverished county of Borsod in February to call attention to the economic situation there.
Unemployment data released by the Central Statistical Office in January showed 10.6% of the working age population to be out of work between September and November 2012, a rate similar to that in the same period of 2011. North and northeastern counties had the highest unemployment levels at 17.4% in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, 18.1% in Nógrád and 17.8% in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, well above 5.7% and 6.8% in western Gyõr-Moson-Sopron and Vas counties respectively and Budapest’s nine per cent.
Meanwhile the employment rate increased 1.5% to 51.1%, with 55,000 people finding work between Q4 2011 and Q4 2012, an increase ascribed to the expansion of public employment.