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.
If Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has his way, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians will soon join similar squads. Under a plan approved by Parliament in July, by 2012 some 300,000 people will be working in community service jobs—doing everything from picking up trash to building stadiums—instead of drawing welfare or unemployment benefits. Hungary will no longer “give benefits to those capable of work, when there is much work to be done,” Orbán said in June. The effort is part of the ruling Fidesz Party’s 2010 election pledge to create 1 million jobs over the next decade.