Ukrainian Temporary Agency Workers in the Electronics Sector in Hungary

Research Group Seminar
Open to the Public
Nador u. 15
Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 5:00pm
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Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm

This presentation will look into the growing practice of recruiting and employing Ukrainian nationals in the Hungarian electronics plants through Hungarian temporary work agencies (TWAs) and with the help of Ukrainian recruitment intermediary companies. Employment of third country nationals through TWAs is happening at the intersection of the immigration and employment regimes. This means that both the state - with its power to regulate the conditions of legal stay, and employer - with a need for seasonal, flexible hiring and firing arrangements – determine the employment relations and conditions of workers. On a broader scale, we see how bringing in non-EU workers on the temporary work employment schemes fits into the larger scale precarisation of working lives in the region.

Ukrainian temp workers arrive in Hungary with the help of at least a few intermediaries. There are typically three, but sometimes even more intermediaries between the temp worker and the user company, the place where he or she actually works. Such a web of intermediaries, along with administrative and other requirements (services) comprise the necessary infrastructure for the ‘import’ of Ukrainian ‘labour’. We will argue in this paper that while this infrastructure in effect means extra costs for user companies as customers of commodified labour, the main ‘sellers’ - temp agencies - claim the superiority of this commodity compared to many others (no or minimal turnover, committed extremely flexible workers). From the workers’ perspective, the acute problems that arise are a lack of information, practical obstacles to exercise individual and collective rights, which, as was discussed before, yet again reinforces their extreme dependency on employers.

The research consisted of interviews with representatives of intermediaries, officials and experts in Hungary as well as field research with the Ukrainian temporary agency workers employed in the electronics sector in the medium sized Hungarian town of Jászberény, a regional hub for electronics and various subcontractors working for both electronics and automotive industries. Ukrainian temp workers, as third country nationals, cannot be hired on permanent contracts, while Hungarian legislation reinforces a high degree of dependency of the worker on the employer, which is further reinforced by several conditions. The triangular employment relationship of temp workers similarly complicates arrangement of social security accounts, tax and pension numbers, in addition to recruitment, translation and arranging accommodation. In the case of Ukrainian temp workers, there was not only a higher level of dependency on the employers, but also a more precarious employment arrangement. In addition, there was a language barrier; in practice, this was an obstacle in receiving full, up-to-date and timely information related to both contractual obligations, changes in arrangements, and work-related issues. On the workers’ end, we know for sure that communication gaps were used at the work place to intimidate and belittle the workers.

Olena Fedyuk has obtained her PhD degree from the department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University, Budapest. Her dissertation is an ethnographic examination of transnational moral economies and distant motherhood through the cases of Ukrainian female labour migrants to Italy. Her recent work deals with transnational labour migration, overlap of gendered employment and migration policies as well as transformations in care and labour regimes. Since 2012 Olena directed 2 documentary films; “Road of a migrant” (2015) and “Olha’s Italian Diary” (2018). Olena’s most recent work explored the growing field of temporary work agency employing third country nationals in the EU and the role of Ukrainian intermediaries in meeting the workforce demand from abroad.

Tibor T Meszmann, is a researcher and activist. His work and studies mainly focus on collective labour rights, unionism, industrial relations, and employment policies in postsocialism, with a more recent focus on Hungary. Tibor is Research Fellow at the Central European Labour Studies Institute and a member of the Public Sociology Working Group “Helyzet”.