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Hospital employees to be transferred to an external company: NER-affiliated cleaning firm expands further in Hungary’s healthcare sector

Vasvári Tamás / MTI
Vasvári Tamás / MTI
The NER-affiliated company, so far displaying a dizzying pace of expansion, is to take over maintenance tasks in rural medical institutions on January 1, 2024. Employees fear they might now be redirected from one hospital to another.

(NER, “Nemzetközi Együttműködés Rendszere”, or the System of National Cooperation, is the informal network of Fidesz-aligned and – often informally – affiliated businesses and political actors. Among critics of Orbán and his government, the term has become synonymous with corruption and theft of public funds.)

Those not transferring to the mentioned company will no longer have the opportunity to work – according to our sources, this was the essence of the message conveyed to the cleaning staff of the Fejér County Saint George University Teaching Hospital. As per our understanding, employees have so far only received verbal notifications, but these have already revealed that everyone must transfer to an external company by December 31. According to our information, the hospital settles with employees through mutual agreement, essentially ‘forcing them to resign,’ as stated by our source. It is rumoured among those affected that on December 31, 220 cleaners will be let go, only for the external company to take over on January 1.

The mentioned external company is B+N Referencia Plc., whose rapid expansion can be considered staggering, even by NER standards. The company, whose main profile is the cleaning and maintenance of buildings, has been winning one state contract after another for years. Their biggest achievement so far dates back to 2021: the firm secured a 300 billion HUF contract  entailing the gradual takeover of disinfection and cleaning tasks, from operating rooms to warehouses, in 107 hospitals across the country.

In other words, it is not only the aforementioned Székesfehérvár hospital that is affected by the changes. According to the company’s response, B+N Referencia Plc. currently handles disinfection-related cleaning tasks in 49 hospitals, but in 30 of these healthcare institutions, they have been present only for the past 4 months. Starting from January 1, 2024, B+N will commence cleaning in an additional 51 rural hospitals, including the one in Székesfehérvár.

According to our sources, several employees are concerned that the new contract may result in unfavourable changes to their working conditions. It is certain that their employment relationship will begin anew, but what they are the most anxious about is that they might become transferrable to other hospitals facing a shortage of workforce. Initially, we approached the hospital with our questions, but they directed us to the Ministry of Finance, which, however, has not responded to our inquiries for a month. On the other hand, B+N Referencia Plc. would readily provide answers.

Regarding the takeover of employees, the company replied that prior to the beginning of the services entailed by the acquired contract, they establish contact with the hospital management and offer the cleaning staff the opportunity for further employment.

How a particular hospital manages the change among its employees falls within the competence of the respective institution, nonetheless, we always offer our partnership in this endeavour

– they added.

The cleaners are also required to participate in an adult education course, “upon successful completion of which they will obtain a hygienic institutional cleaning qualification. It is during this training that employees learn to master the high-hygienic cleaning technology provided by our company, as well as the correct use of cleaning tools. Thanks to this, our disinfection and cleaning services in medical institutions contribute to safe patient care” – they responded.

The company also confirmed that they plan to take over 220 employees from healthcare institutions in Székesfehérvár and its subordinate facilities in Mór, Enying, Csákvár, and Sárbogárd. Consultations with these institutions have already taken place, and “they have all expressed their intention to join.” Regarding the possible relocation of employees, they stated that

we intend to employ each employee at their original working locations, and our future employees are to sign indefinite contracts with us.

We inquired once again whether employees could be transferred according to their new contracts. The response revealed that

the contracts do not stipulate that the cleaners can only work at their original working locations.

However, the company emphasized that they would like to employ all new colleagues at the hospitals they belonged to before the takeover. Some employees are concerned about losing cafeteria benefits, and in response to our inquiry on this matter, the company stated that they aim to determine the remuneration of employees in a way that incorporates previous additional benefits and allowances into the salaries. “Our goal is that no new colleague should be worse off with the takeover. Naturally, there are certain benefits, such as travel reimbursement, which we will continue to provide in an unchanged form in the future as well – they added.

Máthé Zoltán / MTI

Not only cleaning, but also facility management to be taken over in hospitals

Due to a government regulation amendment, from July 1, a new era has dawned in hospitals: first in the capital and then, from January 1, 2024, nationwide, the state centrally provides property management services for all hospitals through the Directorate General for Public Procurement and Supply (KEF). The essence of this is that KEF ensures property management services for all active publicly financed inpatient care facilities under the maintenance of the National Directorate General for Hospitals, located in both the capital and elsewhere.

Much like in the case of cleaning hospitals, B+N Referencia Plc. emerged victorious in obtaining facility management contracts as well.

They began performing the tasks specified in the contract in Budapest hospitals and their rural locations from July 1, 2023; and, just like in the case of cleaning, B+N will take over facility management in regional institutions on January 1, 2024 – this will affect 61 institutions, they claim. This contract is distinct from their activities related to the disinfection and cleaning of hospitals; it involves the technical operation of hospital buildings, and the maintenance, repair, and inspection of equipment.

In response to our question about how many people, in total, are affected by the change – in other words, how many employees would be offered the opportunity to transition, the company couldn’t provide a specific answer.

Naturally, we are examining the possibility for colleagues involved in maintenance activities in each hospital to participate in the services we provide. However, the exact number of people affected and how the change will impact them falls within the jurisdiction of their current employers, that is, the respective hospitals

– they stated in their response.

Vasvári Tamás / MTI

The company’s soaring success is exceptional even within NER circles

The company, or rather, its predecessor, B+N Ltd., was founded in 1998 and remained in the hands of a family based in the Pest county town of Galgahévíz for over a decade. In 2009, the current sole shareholder, Ferenc Kis-Szölgyémi, appeared among the owners. Two years later, Kis-Szölgyémi jointly owned the company with the business circle of Lajos Simicska. According to G7, this is roughly when the company’s upward trajectory began, the annual profits of which, soaring in the hundreds of millions, Simicska and his associates could enjoy until 2015. However, following the falling out between Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska, the entire company came under the sole ownership of Kis-Szölgyémi, which did not slow down the company’s success at all.

For years, B+N Referencia has been standing out regarding public procurement, successfully participating in public tenders 158 times in the past decade, as reported by Forbes last year. Among these, 29 tenders reached the value of one billion HUF. According to the article, the facility management company has secured

a total of 608 billion forints

in state orders since 2012.

Last year, the firm’s progress – dizzying even by NER standards – has been driven by its foreign subsidiaries, constituting 28% of the consolidated revenue, as indicated by reports. The group’s revenue increased from 152 billion forints the previous year to 181 billion last year, with a taxed profit of 11.1 billion forints, falling short of the previous year’s 19.9 billion. B+N’s main focus is on facility management and cleaning, contributing 79 billion and 81 billion forints, respectively, to last year’s revenue. The sole owner received significant dividends, with 2.8 billion forints in 2021 and 9.5 billion forints in 2022 reported under this category in the annual reports.

The B+N group, gradually becoming a regional multinational, provides property management, cleaning, gardening, and laundry services in numerous Central and Eastern European countries, including Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, as well as Bulgaria in addition to Hungary.

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