Major job losses at Slovak Television

Radical changes have taken place at Slovak Television (STV) since a new director was appointed in January 2003. To deal with long-term financial problems, production of TV programmes has been cut and over 1,100 employees (60% of the STV workforce) have been made redundant despite trade union opposition.

In August 2002, parliament removed the director of Slovak Television (Slovenská televízia, STV), the country's public broadcaster. The grounds were that he had signed a new collective agreement which awarded STV management excessive redundancy pay entitlements (SK0211102N). Consequently, the vacancy was advertised and 40 candidates applied for the position. The Slovak Television Council (Rada Slovenskej televízie, Rada STV) - a body which is elected by parliament and is responsible for STV's objectivity and independence - proposed two candidates from among the applicants and parliament subsequently selected Richard Rybnicek as the new STV director. Parliament made the decision in the light of Mr Rybnicek's stated vision for STV's operation and of his TV management experience (he is a former director of a private TV station). On 15 January 2003, Mr Rybnicek was officially installed as the new STV director.

The new director started his job in a very radical manner. On his second day in office, he removed the 'statutory representatives' appointed to run STV by the previous director before his dismissal. He went on to appoint new employees and created a so-called 'crisis team'. After 10 days in the job, he annulled the so-called 'gold parachute'- ie the redundancy pay of 12 months' salary previously agreed for top STV managers. Furthermore, on 31 January 2003, he amended the STV collective agreement, so as to abolish the extra redundancy pay for lower STV managers. Now all STV employees are entitled only to redundancy pay in line with the provisions of the Labour Code - ie up to two months' average wages.

In February 2003, STV stopped production of several programmes on financial grounds. At the beginning of March 2003, the director stated that STV was in a programming and financial crisis, with losses of SKK 700 million and monthly outgoings of SKK 45 million on employees' wages alone. According to the director, there had been anarchy at STV in recent years, and the priority now was to stabilise its operations and activities, along with cutbacks. Therefore, the director, after consultations with trade unions, denounced most of the company collective agreement signed by the former management. The issues discussed with the unions included redundancy pay, overtime pay, paid time off, benefits and contributions, and travel and commuting arrangements. The talks did not reach any conclusion, and Mr Rybnicek stated that negotiations would resume only under meaningful conditions.

An 'emergency regime' was then declared at STV, which is expected to last until the end of 2003. This involves a major reduction in STV's production activity and workforce. It was announced that more than 1,100 employees, or 60% of the total, would be made redundant, affecting all parts of the organisation but mainly technical and administrative staff. It was estimated that the workforce reduction would save STV more than SKK 300 million a year in wages, while the one-off costs of redundancy pay for the dismissed employees was estimated at SKK 250 million. Mr Rybnicek asked the government to provide STV with this latter sum, stating that this would be the last time it asked the government for money. The Minister of Finance appears to have accepted this request. The director also wants to move STV from its current premises. Under the director's plan, it is claimed that STV should have a balanced budget by 2004, and could even make a profit.

STV employees were shocked by the director’s decision to cut 60% of the workforce. However, the Slovak Television Council approved all the steps taken by Mr Rybnícek. The company informed the trade unions about the redundancy plans, preparing all the necessary information for the trade unions and the public labour offices. Management offered to negotiate with the unions and the director proposed dates for such negotiation, but the unions asked for further information and time to study the materials. The unions acknowledged the need for job losses but wanted to know the names of all employees who would be made redundant, as well as STV's new programming and organisational structure. Management submitted to the unions the list of redundant employees, which included several trade union representatives. Later, the unions accused the STV director of incorrect procedures regarding the collective redundancies. Nevertheless, management did not change its plans and by 31 May 2003 more than 1,100 STV employees had lost their jobs.

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