Lithuania: Right to strike and public sector social dialogue
Lithuania’s Labour Code was amended in mid-2014 to clarify a range of industrial action issues. These include the suspension of strikes, the interpretation of collective agreements and the lawfulness of strikes where there is a valid collective agreement. The amendments also clarify the rules for public sector employer representation in social dialogue.
Amendments to the regulation of strikes
The rules for interpreting collective agreements were not laid down in the Labour Code of the Republic of Lithuania (LC) until 1 July 2014. The suspension of strikes, for example, was previously governed by the general provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure which gave no legal grounds for stopping strikes, and employees’ right to collective bargaining was therefore restricted.
The latest amendments to the Labour Code define a legal framework for interpreting collective agreements in accordance with the Labour Code’s principles. Strike suspension is now regulated by defining in more detail those occupations that are of vital importance to the public, justifying suspension of industrial action by the courts in the public interest.
A new article (101) stipulates that collective labour contracts and agreements shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of the Labour Code and, where there is uncertainty about the provisions governing employment relations, those that are more favourable to employees shall apply.
Changes to dispute resolution
The Third-Party Court has been abolished as a body for labour disputes resolution. The explanatory memorandum to the draft of the new law explains that the Third-Party Court has been ineffective in resolving labour disputes because the arbitrators, being appointed by the parties to a dispute, represent their respective parties and defend their respective interests. Consequently, it is difficult to reach any agreement in this institution.
The functions of the government in collective dispute resolution have been transferred to the Labour Arbitration system where final decisions will be made by impartial arbitrators. This will also ensure that when collective disputes arise among public sector employees, the government – which is indirectly their employer – will not be involved in the objective resolution of such disputes.
Strike prohibition lifted
Before the amendments came into force, the Labour Code absolutely prohibited strike action while there was a collective agreement in force. This prohibition is lifted and circumstances in which strikes are prohibited are clearly specified.
- Employees of emergency medical services and other employees whose rights to strike are restricted on the grounds of public safety or interest are prohibited from calling a strike. Requirements or demands put forward by such employees shall be settled by the Labour Arbitration system.
- While a valid collective agreement is in force, no strike can be called over the requirements or working conditions regulated by the agreement if its provisions have been complied with. The restriction on strikes shall not apply if bargaining permitted by the collective agreement ends in disagreement between the parties.
Clearer definition of essential services
The amendments also defines more clearly the areas of vital importance for the public in which employees’ right to strike must be restricted. These include railways and urban public transport, civil aviation enterprises, medical institutions, water, electricity, energy, heat and gas supply, sewage, waste collection and elevator companies. A court may postpone a proposed strike in any of these areas for 30-days, or suspend an ongoing strike for the same period if there is a direct threat that the provision of minimum services necessary for vital public needs is threatened.
According to the chair of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK), trade unions were the leading initiators of the amendments to the Labour Code and they are satisfied with them. The LPSK chair said that increased freedom for employees to defend their rights should make the option to go on strike easier at enterprise level.
Representation of public sector employers
On 5 June 2014, amendments to the Labour Code (effective from 12 June 2014) were adopted to improve regulation of labour relations and reduce the administrative burden on employers. There were a range of changes, including modification of the obligatory procedure for public posting of work schedules and abolition of the obligatory working-time sheets.
A significant change is that public sector employers shall now be represented by the government or an institution authorised by the government. The new version of the Labour Code stipulates: ‘Employers – enterprises, agencies and organisations funded from national, municipal and State Social Insurance Fund budgets, as well as from other funds established by the State – shall be represented in the social partnership on national, sectoral (production, services, professional), territorial (municipality, county) levels by the government or its authorised institution’.
Previously municipalities and ministries had not assumed the role of the employer in collective bargaining, severely hindering negotiations and damaging social dialogue in the public sector in general.
According to LPSK’s representatives, this change will eliminate disputes about employer representation in the public sector.