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Hungary quietly opens up to labor immigration to address labor shortages

In the memory of workers, in Kistelek, we had never seen new colleagues arrive from so far away. At the end of May, for the first time in the history of this small town of 7,000 inhabitants in southern Hungary, around twenty Indonesians landed to help the 200 workers of the electric cable factory, currently overwhelmed by orders. . “We explained to our Hungarian workers that we were so short of arms that production risked being blocked or that they could not go on vacation”explains Marton Balog, production manager of this factory belonging to the Italian multinational Prysmian.

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This Monday, July 18, the Indonesian workers are still in the learning phase, but the Italian company hopes that they will be able to be completely autonomous in the coming weeks. “I only knew Hungary from the football World Cup”confesses without difficulty Muhamad Firdaus, a cheerful 22-year-old worker who came from Padang, on the island of Sumatra, to assemble cables twelve hours a day in this remote corner of central Europe. “I love Hungary, people are very nice to me”continues this graduate in mechanics, who has even started learning the difficult Magyar language.

Ponton Sijari, 26, in the Kistelek cable factory on July 11, 2022.

At his side, Ponton Sijari, 26, is also ” very happy “ to have left his native Indonesia for the first time in his life “to earn about twice as much”. That is a little over 600 euros net per month, a significant salary for Indonesia, but which is no longer enough to attract Hungarian labour. “We first went looking in Ukraine or Romania, but we weren’t very successful, the turnover was too high, so we said to ourselves that we were going to look even further in the South. -East Asian »says Tiago Campelo, human resources director of the Hungarian subsidiary of Prysmian.

Prayer room

This Portuguese is at the origin of what he cautiously qualifies “interesting experience” in this country led since 2010 by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known throughout Europe for his fierce fight against immigration. He does not hide having taken the greatest possible precautions in order to avoid bad reactions: the Indonesians are accommodated an hour away, in Szeged, a student town which already welcomes foreigners, and an interpreter is present every day on the site.

Tiago Campelo, human resources manager (left), and Marton Balog, production manager, at the cable factory in Kistelek, Hungary, on July 11, 2022.
Muslim prayer room for Indonesian workers, at the cable factory in Kistelek, Hungary, on July 11, 2022.

The management also organized meetings with the Hungarian workers to explain to them all the cultural differences, in particular why it decided to open a small Muslim prayer room. According to the Prysmian workers, these precautions are paying off. “The factory has done everything to make them feel good, there is no problem, except for the language”, welcomes for example Tibor Szögi, 48, who has been working on production lines for nine years. After two months of experience, Mr. Campelo does not hide his relief. “I expected more resistance”says the man who now plans to bring in dozens of additional Indonesians in the coming weeks.

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