New trade union enhances representativeness of defence sector

Up until July 2009, three trade unions were active in the defence activities subsector. On 4 July 2009, a fourth union, the Soldiers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (SVS), was founded, 18 years after the Slovenian army came into existence. The SVS leadership has explained that soldiers did not have a trade union to represent their interests adequately, particularly in terms of communicating their potential disagreement. As a result, they felt that their rights were being violated.

According to the Law on Defence in Slovenia, workers in the field of defence have the right to trade union organisation and activity in accordance with the regulations. This is not the case in all countries. The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948, No. 87 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) states that the extent to which the guarantees provided for in this Convention shall apply to the armed forces and the police shall be determined by national laws or regulations. The armed forces and the police are the only classes that may be excluded under Convention No. 87 from the right to establish trade unions.

Soldiers set up trade union

On 17 November 2008, at a presentation to the parliamentary defence committee, the new Minister of Defence, Ljubica Jelušič, explained that in Slovenia the following three trade unions were operating in the defence activities subsector, namely the:

  • Ministry of Defence Trade Union (Sindikat Ministrstva za obrambo, SMO);
  • Army, Defence and Protection Trade Union (Sindikat vojske, obrambe in zaščite, SVOZ);
  • Pilots’ Trade Union of the Ministry of Defence (Sindikat pilotov Ministrstva za obrambo, SPMO), which is a small union.

However, there was no soldiers’ trade union. Minister Jelušič emphasised that a trade union for soldiers should exist to provide a channel through which soldiers can communicate their disagreement; the absence of such a trade union could lead to a feeling that their rights are being violated. The lack of an effective channel of communication for soldiers was especially evident during the preparation of the new pay system for the public sector (SI0708039I). The introduction of this new pay system in the defence activities subsector revealed that administrative workers did not have many complaints regarding the application of the system, whereas military workers had several grievances.

The Soldiers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat vojakov Slovenije, SVS) was founded on 4 July 2009, 18 years after the Slovenian army (Slovenska vojska, SV) came into existence. Slovenian soldiers have thus established their own trade union. The SVS leadership believes that soldiers are able to organise an efficient trade union capable of being a reliable negotiating partner with their state employer. Until now, the SVS leadership has emphasised that soldiers did not have a trade union representing their interests adequately; they were not satisfied with SMO and SVOZ.

Profile of defence trade unions

As noted, until early July 2009, three trade unions were active in the defence field, as outlined below.

  • SMO was founded in 1994. According to the List of Representative Trade Unions kept by the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (Ministrstvo za delo, družino in socialne zadeve, MDDSZ), SMO has representative status in the defence activities subsector. In July 2009, it became a member trade union of the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS). Some 80% of SMO members are military persons, while civilians comprise 20%. On 1 January 2009, 1,376 people were employed in the administrative part of the defence system and 7,170 people in SV, according to the state portal website of the Republic of Slovenia.
  • SVOZ was established on 7 April 2004. Before then, it had been part of SMO. However, some SMO members were not satisfied with SMO’s work and set up SVOZ. About 63% of its members are in SV, while around 30% form the administrative part of the Ministry of Defence (Ministrstvo za obrambo, MO); the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Protection and Rescue (Uprava RS za zaščito in reševanje, URSZR) comprises the remaining 7%. In December 2005, SVOZ had more than 1,300 members. It joined the Confederation of Trade Unions ’90 of Slovenia (Konfederacija sindikatov ’90 Slovenije, Konfederacija ’90), becoming a member trade union. It has representative status in the defence activities subsector.
  • SPMO was founded on 4 May 1998. In March 2003, SPMO joined Konfederacija ’90 and became a member trade union. On 16 July 2003, SPMO acquired representativeness status in the occupation of pilots. It has 63 members, who are helicopter and aeroplane pilots.

Trade union organisation and activity

Article 100b of the Law on Defence stipulates the following conditions regarding trade union organisation and activity in the defence sector.

  • Workers in the field of defence have the right to trade union organisation and activity in accordance with the regulations.
  • The trade union cannot give an opinion on the formation and organisation of the army, its equipment, activity, preparedness and use. The trade union cannot give an opinion on the documents of management and command, or its opinions are not binding for the minister and the chief of the general staff and others in command. Regardless of the previous paragraph, the trade union gives opinion on elements which are the basis for the determination of pay to the workers in the defence sector and on comparability with pay in the public sector.
  • In cases where a law or a collective agreement, or an agreement between the ministry and the representative trade union, determines that, before the decision, the minister must obtain the opinion of the representative trade union, and this does not concern the cases from the second paragraph of this article, the minister must send a draft decision or document to the trade union to obtain its opinion. The minister must determine a reasonable deadline for the shaping of the opinion, which as a rule is not allowed to be shorter than 15 days. If the minister does not succeed in adjusting the decision proposal with the trade union, he or she can adopt an unadjusted decision, but must explain in writing the reasons why the trade union’s opinion was not taken into account and must inform the trade union about this.
  • The conditions for the functioning of the trade union and trade union trustee in the ministry are determined by the agreement concluded by the minister and the representative trade union.
  • According to this law, the representative trade union is a trade union in the ministry to which at least 15% of employees in the ministry are affiliated if the law does not determine otherwise. A trade union acquires representative status according to the conditions determined by the Law on Representativeness of Trade Unions (SI0210102F). Therefore, the trade union does not need to also acquire representative status according to this paragraph.

Article 99 of the defence law concerns the right to strike and states the following conditions.

  • During the performance of military service, military persons do not have the right to strike.
  • Workers who perform administrative and expert functions in the field of defence exercise the right to strike under conditions determined by the Law on Public Employees.


It seems that the special nature of soldiers’ work partly determines the poor conditions for their trade union activity and its relative lack of success compared with administrative workers. For example, when military trade union officers are on duty in a foreign country, they cannot be engaged in trade union activity at home.

Štefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development

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