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Lake Balaton: Lack of Cheap Workforce Generates Rising Prices

Fanni Kaszás 2019.06.19.

More and more people are lacking in the hospitality industry at Lake Balaton as Hungarian entrepreneurs cannot compete with Western wages. According to Népszava, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find workforce for entrepreneurs around Lake Balaton, which has also resulted in the fact that prices have increased tremendously in the lakeside shops, as owners have to attract employees with competitive salaries.

On the southern shore, employers can find waiters for 1100-1300 HUF per hour, but a good chef asks for no less than 1500 HUF at best, but it can go as high as 2000 HUF/hour. In some places on the northern shore, even waiters get this amount as an hourly wage.

The lack of workforce is not only an issue for restaurants, but also for smaller shops. In many places, the owners and their family members stand behind the counter during the summer season because they cannot find enough staff. One of the restaurant owners stated to a newspaper that “…nobody will accept the job for 400,000 forints.” Another entrepreneur complained that when they finally do find someone, they are sometimes useless, as they don’t really want to work, just earn a lot of money.

According to entrepreneurs around Lake Balaton, the situation has deteriorated since last year, one of the reasons being that fewer and fewer people, who have been working abroad in the off-season are returning. Previously, they were working at the Balaton during the summer, but now they would rather stay in Austria and Germany after the winter months for the more attractive wages. The majority of Hungarian employers cannot pay Western European wages so they will be forced to close in the near future. In five years, half of the small businesses in Lake Balaton may disappear.

Many restaurants are already looking for employees for the summer months from as early as January-February on social media and through advertisements, for almost every position. There are restaurants where the labor shortage resulted in a reduced food menu, as there are not enough people to prepare the food and serve the customers.

Tamás Flesch, president of the Hungarian Hotel and Restaurant Association, also affirmed this, saying that hotels and restaurants cannot produce the income for the higher, Western European salaries, so many tourism professionals have chosen to go abroad in recent years. He added that at least ten thousand employees are missing from the industry, and even more people are needed from the beginning of the summer season.

Other factors also affect the problem: the Balaton hospitality industry is very seasonal, and although local entrepreneurs are fighting to attract more visitors during the off-season (the winter months), it is more difficult to find professionals to work only two or three months at the lake. Not to mention how many horror stories circulate about unpaid work, scams, and poor working conditions as well.

Last year, 24.hu asked employees about working at the ’Hungarian Sea.’ According to them, the work is constant during the season; sometimes not even those who are working right on the beach all summer can relax or swim in the water. It is also common for inexperienced employees to take jobs during the pre-season, then when the season starts, they realize they can’t cope with the hard work and give up, leaving more work to those who stay. It is also hard to find a person who would work a full-day in 35 degree heat for the offered wage, frying lángos (fried dough). Sometimes temperatures can reach as high as 60-70 degrees by the stove, which also makes it difficult to find employees.