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Hungarian workers strike ahead of vote on health reform bill

Hungarian railway workers began an indefinite strike on Monday morning in protest against reforms to the health insurance system that were expected to be passed by parliament later in the day.

Only around half of the nation’s trains were running early in the morning, and workers from national bus company Volán also walked out for several hours across the country. Some teachers and health care workers are also expected to join in the industrial action. The strikers are angry over government plans to introduce private capital to the health insurance system. The governing Socialist-liberal coalition is on Monday expected to vote through the changes, which will see regional health funds open to a limited amount of private investment replace the current centralized system.

Healthcare reform was a key policy of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats - the junior coalition member - but its determination to push through the changes caused ructions in the coalition. The Hungarian Socialist Party, anxious at a loss of popularity, wanted to delay and dilute the healthcare reform, and the two parties squabbled for months before coming to a compromise deal. Healthcare reform is part of a wider set of reforms aimed at cutting Hungary’s huge budget deficit. The reforms, which also included tax rises, energy price hikes and the introduction of fees for visiting doctors and hospitals, have driven down the government’s approval ratings to well under 20% and prompted many protests and strikes. (m&