Strike legislation and trends examined

This feature outlines the development of the legislation on strikes in Slovenia and the current legal provisions in 2002. It also examines data on strikes in industry, which have been gradually decreasing since the early 1990s, and looks at strikes in the public service sector, where recent years have seen a number of major disputes.

This article examines the legislation governing strikes in Slovenia and recent developments in strike activity.

Legislation

Strikes were for a long time a 'taboo issue' in the former Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, in spite of the fact that the country had ratified a number of international treaties and other documents which in an indirect or direct way include the right to strike. The first strike held in the former Yugoslavia occurred in Slovenia at the Trbovlje, Zagorje and Hrastnik coal mines on 13-16 January 1958.

In the former Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, strikes were not legally regulated until 1974. In that year, a Constitution was adopted which regulated strikes indirectly, but which did not explicitly enshrine the right to strike. Only the resolution of collective disputes was regulated, and only partially. The right to strike was recognised for the first time in constitutional amendments made in 1988 (see 'Strikes as a form of protection of collective interests'[in Slovene], V Lednik, in Trade union law, M Novak et al, Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia. Ljubljana, 1992). In 1991, the Federal Assembly of the former Yugoslavia adopted a Law on Strikes and in the same year the Slovene parliament gave its assent to this law, which is still in force.

Slovenia officially declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. In Slovenia, employees now have the constitutional right to strike. Article 77 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, adopted on 23 December 1991, states: 'Employees have the right to strike. Where required by the public interest, the right to strike may be restricted by law, with due consideration given to the type and nature of activity involved.'

Neither the Constitution nor any other legislation permits employers to use the lock-out as an instrument in the negotiating process or during a strike.

The Law on Strikes

According to the Law on Strikes, a strike is an organised stoppage of work by workers, with the purpose of exercising economic and social rights and interests arising from work. Worker may decide freely on their participation in a strike. The Law on Strikes provides that a strike can be organised in a company or other organisation, in a part of an organisation, in a branch of the economy etc, or as a general strike.

Calling a strike

The decision on beginning a strike in an organisation, or part of it, or in a branch of the economy etc is to be taken by the appropriate body of a relevant trade union organisation, or by the majority of workers concerned. The decision on beginning a general strike is to be taken by the highest trade union body in the republic or federation (here the term federation means former state of Yugoslavia, because this law was adopted when it still existed).

This decision to call a strike must establish: the demands of the workers; the time of the beginning of the strike; the gathering place for participants in the strike; and the body which represents the interests of the workers and leads the strike in their name (ie the strike committee). The strike committee must announce the strike at least five days before the day the strike is due to start, by sending the strike decision to the management body of the relevant employing organisation or to the employer. A strike decision relating to a branch-level or general strike must be sent to the competent body of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije, GZS) or its relevant branch association.

Conduct of strikes

The strike committee and the representatives of the bodies to which the strike was announced must try, from the day the strike is announced and during the strike, to settle the dispute by agreement. At the request of the parties to the dispute, a number of other parties may be included in the negotiations. These are representatives of:

  • a relevant trade union, if this union is not the organiser of the strike;
  • GZS or its relevant branch association, if the strike was not announced to them; and
  • the 'sociopolitical community' (this term was used in the former political system, and now the terms state or local community are used).

The strike committee and the workers taking part in a strike must organise and lead the strike in a way which does not threaten the security and health of people and property, and makes possible the resumption of work after the strike. They are not allowed to prevent workers who are not participating in a strike from working.

A strike stops through agreement between the parties to the dispute, or on the decision of the trade union or of the workers which took the decision to call the strike.

Activities of special public importance

The right to strike of workers in organisations which perform activities of special public importance and in organisations which are of special importance for military defence, can be exercised only under the condition that they ensure:

  • provision of a minimum level of work which ensures the security of people and property, or is an irreplaceable condition for the life and work of citizens or the functioning of other organisations; and
  • performance of Slovenia's international duties.

The way in which these conditions are to be ensured is regulated by law or a decree based on law. The work and duties which have to be ensured are determined by general legal instrument or by collective agreement.

Strikes in activities of special public importance must be announced to: the management body of the employing organisation or the employer; the appropriate trade union if the union is not the organiser of the strike; and the competent body of the sociopolitical community (today, the terms state and local community are used instead). The strike must be announced at least 10 days before it is due to start, by submitting the strike decision and a statement on how the minimum level of work is to be ensured.

The parties to the dispute - the bodies to which the strike was announced and the strike committee - must offer proposals on resolving the dispute and inform the workers involved and the public about these proposals. The proposals must be offered in the period from the declaration of the strike to the day that it begins.

Public sector

The right to strike in the state administration and administration of local communities is regulated in a similar way as the right to strike in activities of special public importance. The right to strike in the military and police forces is exercised under the conditions determined by laws regulating the rights and duties of employees of these forces.

The right to strike of public employees is also determined in the new Law on Public Employees (SI0208104F) which states that the way in which their right to strike may be exercised and the limitations on strikes in order to protect the public interest are determined by a separate law. Organising a strike or participating in it under the conditions determined by this law:

  • does not involve a violation of the employees' 'work obligation';
  • may not be the grounds for beginning the procedure for the assessment of the disciplinary and financial responsibility of a worker; and
  • may not have as a consequence that a worker is given notice of dismissal.

Workers' rights during strikes

Workers participating in a strike maintain their basic rights from the employment relationship, except the right to pay. They retain rights to pension and disability insurance in accordance with the regulations on these matters. Financial compensation during a strike may apply if this is foreseen under a collective agreement or general legal document. Organisers of, or participants in, a strike which is contrary to the law do not enjoy the abovementioned protection.

Employers' obligations

Management bodies, employers etc cannot, during a strike which is organised according to the conditions in the law, employ new workers to substitute for participants in the strike unless certain conditions (ie that the security and health of people and property should not be threatened, or the resumption of work after the strike should be possible etc) are not ensured.

Management bodies, employers etc are not allowed to:

  • prevent a worker participating in a strike; and
  • use violent measures to end the strike.

A competent body of a sociopolitical community must take urgent measures, provided for by the constitution and by the law, if it considers that violations of certain conditions of the law might result in immediate danger or extraordinarily severe consequences for the life and health of people or their security, and the security of property, or other harmful irremediable consequences.

Data on strikes

In Slovenia, the collection of data on strikes (industrial disputes) is not regulated. Data is not collected properly and is incomplete. Only the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) has been compiling and analysing data on strikes since 1992 (see Main characteristics of strikes in the years 1994-7 (in Slovene), P Vrhovec, ZSSS, Ljubljana, 1998). This information, however, includes only those strikes organised by ZSSS - ie mainly in production industry - and excludes those in certain service sectors, mainly in the public service sectors where ZSSS has few members. It is a relevant indicator of strike activity only in production industry, although ZSSS also has members in retail, catering, tourism etc.

Here the data for the period 1992-7 is analysed - see the table below. The data for 1998, 1999 and 2000 (the most recent year for which information is available) show similar trends (and will be examined in a forthcoming EIRO comparative study).

Strikes in industry, 1991-7
. 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Workers on strike as a % of all employed in industry nd 13.54 7.09 4.32 6.22 7.63 nd
Number of workers on strike nd 71,857 35,503 20,240 28,210 33,397 15,201
Number of lost working hours per employee nd 2.9 2.2 1.9 1.8 2.5 1.8
Number of working hours lost in strikes nd 1,513,148 1,103,099 898,869 814,510 1,095,050 757,687
Number of strikes in industry* 164 193 120 107 112 116 88
Wage arrears as the main reason for a strike (share in %) nd 52.85 59.17 42.06 64.29 72.41 73.86
Average duration of six longest strikes (in days) nd 20 15.84 34.50 45.84 58.50 68.50

Source: ZSSS. * A strike is counted as every deliberate stoppage of work (statistical definition of a strike).

As the table indicates, the level of strikes in industry has been gradually decreasing in Slovenia since 1992, in spite of increases in 1995 and 1996. Over 1992-7, the number of workers involved in strikes fell the most, by 78.8%, and the number of working hours lost per employee in industry fell the least, by 38%. This was partly due to falling employment in industry, with the result that the number of lost hours per employee increased. The number of strikes fell markedly. However, the average length of the longest strikes increased and they accounted for a larger and larger number of lost working hours. The average number of working hours lost in each strike also rose: from 7,840.15 hours in 1992 to 8,610.10 in 1997.

In the period from 1992 to 1997, the total number of lost working hours was highest in four labour-intensive industries: metal and electrical equipment (66% of all lost working hours), textiles and leather (15%), construction (8%) and wood processing (6%). As elsewhere in Europe, the level of strikes in industry is expected to fall as the number of workers in the sector decreases. In services, the level of strikes is expected to increase because of rising employment.

As regards strike demands, about 90% of strikes began for at least two or more reasons. The reason invoked most frequently was the late payment of wages. The share of such strikes has increased markedly since 1995. In 1995 and 1996, strikes provoked by the non-payment of wages for the previous two, three, or more months rose, and increased significantly again in 1997. At the beginning of the period, mainly in 1992, many strikes were caused by privatisation and related enterprise restructuring and threats of job losses. Later, the share of strikes called because of wage arrears increased. Similarly, in some other European countries in the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s, the number of strikes caused by wage arrears and restructuring in certain sectors, and by job losses, increased. There has been a clear reduction in the number of strikes organised solely to demand higher wages.

Strikes in the public sector

In the second half of the 1990s, when the level of strikes in manufacturing industry was declining, strikes in the service sector escalated in Slovenia (see Slovenian industrial relations and EMU, M Stanojevic, Paper prepared for the 'National workshop on the social dialogue and the EMU in Slovenia', in the framework of 'Working life and EU enlargement' project. Ljubljana, 16 October 2002).

Successful strikes organised by the Trade Union of Doctors and Dentists of Slovenia (Sidikat zdravnikov in zobozdravnikov Slovenije, FIDES) in the mid-1990s represented a watershed in strike activity in the public service sector. On 14 December 1995, FIDES organised a one-day warning strike of doctors and dentists. The union's strike demands were that the occupations of doctor and dentist should be removed from the Law on Pay Ratios in Public Institutions [schools, hospitals etc], State Administration and Local Communities, and that their pay should instead be regulated by a separate collective agreement. The basic pay of a general doctor and dentist should be 2.5 times higher than average pay in the whole economy, and that for specialists 3 times higher. The last demand was that doctors and dentists should have influence on health service policy in health institutions (health centres, hospitals etc). FIDES then organised a strike which lasted from 21 March to 12 April 1996 (21 days), in which about 3,000 doctors and dentists participated. They demanded pay rises and the continuation and conclusion of of negotiations regarding FIDES's proposals on changes and additions to the collective agreement for doctors and dentists.

After these strikes, which indicated that trade union militancy pays, various other public service sector trade unions organised strikes, such as those representing school and kindergarten teachers, university and research institution employees, railway workers and air traffic controllers. The most powerful of these interest groups in the public sector became 'wage-setters'. The pressures exerted by FIDES have caused huge problems and controversies between various groups of employees in the public sector and between private and public sector employees.

In 2002, FIDES again organised a strike, while air traffic controllers also took action. The FIDES strike was very controversial. At present, the level of public sector pay - which is causing the gap between public and private sector pay to grow, creating problems in public sector pay policy and putting pressure on the part of the private sector exposed to the international competition - is one of the most controversial issues in Slovenia's social dialogue.

Commentary

The situation outlined above indicates several areas where change might be useful. The Law on Strikes should be amended regarding the terminology at least, because it was adopted at the very beginning of the transition to the market economy. Data on strikes should be compiled by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (Statisticni urad Republike Slovenije, SURS) or some other part of the state administration or public institution. Data should be compiled and presented in a way (definitions, indicators etc) making them comparable in the EU context. (Stefan Skledar, on behalf of the Institute for Labour Law, University of Ljublana)

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