Is Hungarian Government Forcing Unemployed Roma Into Labor Camps As Part Of The Employability Measures Program?

Wielding scythes and pitchforks, about 30 men and women hack through brambles on a hillside above the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata. With the nearest road more than a half mile away, workers have to hike in with food and water for the day. For bathroom and lunch breaks, they duck into a thicket that offers the only shade in the 98F heat. “It’s degrading to work in these conditions,” says Károly Lakatos, a 38-year-old father of three who was laid off earlier this year from his forklift-operator job in an auto parts factory. When his unemployment benefits ran out, the government assigned him to a brigade clearing land owned by the village.

In Gyöngyöspata, 36 of the 40 people working in the program are Roma. Hungary’s Interior Ministry, which administers the program, says it is paying special attention to Roma because they are discriminated against and “underskilled” compared with other workers. “There is little chance that they can find work in the private sector without development programs,” the ministry said in a written response to questions from Bloomberg Businessweek. The Gyöngyöspata workers are to spend three months clearing 16 hectares of land, a job that could be completed far more quickly and cheaply with machinery.

Is Hungarian Government Forcing Unemployed Roma Into Labor Camps As Part Of The Employability Measures Program?

Yes because... No because...

Yes, because this government did not construct something better yet...

"Nearly a decade ago, Slovakia tried a similar public-works program to wean people off the dole, but the government abandoned the effort after a few years, because they realized people were not transiting into regular employment” - Martin Kahanec, an assistant professor of public policy at Central European University in Budapest.

Is Hungarian Government Forcing Unemployed Roma Into Labor Camps As Part Of The Employability Measures Program?

Yes because... No because...

Stupid and humiliating torture especially for Roma called “work”

"We are really hurt in our hearts to see this people humiliated and enslaved like this. The new Mayor just made up some stupid and humiliating torture especially for Roma called it “work” and forced them to take part and wear prisoner like clothes while doing it. As if this is not enough they also obviously filmed it and mock about the humiliation of the Roma and their complaining. " - from the statement of Roma Center Göttingen e.V.

Is Hungarian Government Forcing Unemployed Roma Into Labor Camps As Part Of The Employability Measures Program?

Yes because... No because...

Asking the right questions is a necessary precondition for adequate answers

The very question is heavily manipulative and assumes a binary – yes or no – response. But the real life is rarely binary. This is why, I would respond to the question with another question: “Would it have been better if those people were left without ANY work and the work was done using machinery?”
The original question also adds emotional spin. In that way it blurs more fundamental issues of the global employment crisis unfolding and its implications for unqualified labor. We will be increasingly facing the choice not between “good and better” employment opportunities but between “bad and worse” opportunities. Thus we should urgently look for answers of how to prevent the situation from getting even worse.
The specific case being discussed is just an example of this brutal choice between bad and worse.
As regards Martin’s “yes” comment (adjacent column), the Slovak case was ‘a bit’ more complicated. The Slovak government wanted to move people away from unconditional social assistance to partial ‘working out’ the social assistance payments. It failed because it was done half-way: part of the payments was made conditional on employment in public works but no real opportunities for public works were available. In addition, the new scheme was launched in January, in the middle of winter when social assistance is disproportionately important for households. As a result in few cases Roma protested violently. And this raises another question: does the clumsy attempt to decrease dependency on unconditional assistance means that the very idea of decreasing dependency doesn’t make sense? Personally, I don’t think so.
The bottom-line: asking the right questions in a pragmatic and realistic way is a necessary precondition for adequate answers.
- Andrey Ivanov, Human development economist, UNDP Bratislava.

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