Slovakia: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

A considerable increase in the minimum wage, unions´ request for early retirement for those working in hazardous conditions, and changes in the delivery of occupational health services are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Slovakia in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Considerable increase in the minimum wage

Between 2009 and 2018, the minimum wage in Slovakia increased year-on-year by about €20. In September 2017, the government signed Decree No. 278/2017, which set the monthly minimum wage at €480 from 1 January 2018, a €45 increase (10.34%). Although this increase was exceptional, the increase was implemented without issue: as the social partners were unable to agree on the level of the minimum wage, the government was required by law to decide the increase.

In the tripartite consultations, the trade unions had demanded a minimum wage of €492, but the employers were not able to present a united response. The Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS) had no objection to the unions’ demand and accepted that the new minimum wage would result in higher wages in the public sector. The Federation of Employers' Associations of the Slovak Republic (AZZZ SR) was, however, against any increase, arguing there was a risk of job cuts and loss of company competitiveness. The National Union of Employers (NUE) was not against a higher minimum wage, but pointed out the possible negative impacts on employment and entrepreneurship in Slovakia. It is thought that the minimum wage will affect about 5% of the country’s workforce.

Trade unions demand early retirement for hazardous work

In autumn 2017, the most powerful trade union in the metalwork sector, OZ KOVO, prepared a petition and organised meetings to support early retirement for people performing work hazardous to their health or who have a multi-shift working pattern. The unions want early retirement without any reduction in retirement benefit for these people and demanded a standard retirement age of 64 years for all workers.

At a meeting in Bratislava on 14 October 2017, trade unions discussed the government’s extension of the retirement age by 76 days in 2017, and plans to extend it by another 63 days in 2018. It is planned for the new extension to be applied every year in order to prolong retirement age in line with life expectancy and with no set limit (as yet) for the maximum retirement age. It is likely that if this model is pursued, workers who are currently in their thirties will retire at the age of 68. The Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Jan Richter, promised that the government will deal with the trade unions’ requests, including capping the maximum retirement age at 64 and introducing a pre-retirement scheme for those working in particularly difficult conditions.

Changes in the occupational health service

On 1 December 2017, amendments to Act No. 355/2007 on the protection, support and development of public health came into force. The amendments aim to improve delivery of occupational health services in enterprises. The main changes concern employees’ entitlement to occupational health services, the quality of services and the obligations of employers to consider health risks in the workplace in cooperation with the occupational health service.

All employees are now covered by the health service; previously, only employees performing jobs in risk category 3 and 4 (see below) were covered. The occupational health service can now be delivered only by specified healthcare workers, and not by qualified professionals in occupational safety and health as was previously permitted.

Health risk examinations should be usually carried out on a one-off basis, and only when significant changes in working conditions are likely to have an impact on health risks in the workplace. Health examinations of employees in potentially hazardous workplaces that fall into risk Category 3 (for instance, in chemical laboratories, welding operations) and Category 4 (in workplaces such as mines and nuclear power stations) should be carried out every year. Employees in Category 2 workplaces (such as offices) should be assessed every 18 months.

The changes aim to both improve occupational health services and also cut the associated financial expenditure and administrative duties of employers.

Commentary

The trade unions´ initiative to cap the retirement age is relevant in the context of the ongoing pension reforms in the EU. The adopted reforms are likely to be revisited and amended in due course, but the Slovakian government seems to be aiming for a maximum retirement age of 65.

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