Laid off Hungarians turn to truck driving, carrot picking

Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Fenyo
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Laid off Hungarians turn to truck driving, carrot picking

Lazar, 29-year-old, poses for a picture during the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Nagyszentjanos

By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Fenyo

ERD, Hungary (Reuters) - Zoltan Wetter worked in restaurants for over two decades before the coronavirus pandemic cost him his job. With no savings, the 38-year-old chef from the town of Erd in Hungary took the first opportunity he could find: behind the wheel of a garbage truck.

Wetter is among tens of thousands of Hungarians who lost their livelihoods almost overnight after the new coronavirus struck in early March and Hungary went into lockdown.

The country got off relatively lightly compared to others in Europe, but the economic impact is still severe: The government expects gross domestic product (GDP) to shrink by 3% this year, and for unemployment to rise to 5.6% from around 3% in 2019.

Annamaria Lazar, 29, lost her job when the jewellery shop where she had worked was forced to close. Eventually she found work picking carrots at a vegetable farm 70 kms (44 miles) from her home.

"I thought I would not live to see the end of the first day," she said. But at least she is financially independent from her parents, and she gets to be outdoors, Lazar said.

Gabor Czaban used to work as a DJ, but quickly found work as a delivery truck driver for the Tesco supermarket group.

"I do not work in the DJ stand and see the joy on people's faces now, but fortunately I still get to make people happy as they expect me like the saviour when I bring them some groceries."

Meanwhile Wetter applied for work at his local council. "When they called me back, I automatically said yes." He has since been promoted from truck driver to dispatcher at a waste plant in Erd.

Wetter said his new line of work differed greatly from being a chef, but that it came with a more structured lifestyle:

"I can finally get some sleep again."

(Additional reporting by Balazs Kaufmann; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)