New national agreement attracts widespread criticism

In October 2009, the government and leaders of Lithuania’s peak social partner organisations signed a new national agreement. Although the idea of a national agreement is welcomed in theory, this latest accord has been widely criticised by independent experts and opponents, who argue that the accord is void and that it only meets the interests of its signatory parties rather than those of the public.

After three months of negotiations, on 28 October 2009, Lithuania’s Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius, and some of the peak social partner organisations signed a new national agreement. The accord confirms the commitment of its signatories to reduce social benefits, increase social insurance contributions, reduce profit tax and not to amend laws regulating labour relations without the consent of the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos trišalė taryba, LRTT). The national agreement was signed by 12 business and public organisations, including trade unions, employer organisations and business associations (LT0911019I). However, organisations representing disabled people, along with six trade unions, the Lithuanian Association of Older People and the National Assembly of Active Mothers refused to sign the agreement.

Criticisms of experts

Although the idea of a national agreement is widely welcomed, the agreement has generated considerable criticism. Some experts, while holding a positive view of such agreements in theory, have expressed reservations in this instance – particularly regarding the circumstances of its negotiation. The biggest criticism is that the agreement has only been signed by the government and a limited number of social partner organisations, without the involvement of political parties, and that it is therefore unreasonable to call it a ‘national agreement’.

The content of the agreement has also generated criticism. According to one expert:

in future, it will be difficult to evaluate whether the agreement is implemented or not, because many of the ideas recorded therein are merely theoretical; the agreement lacks specific figures and objectives.

Moreover, political commentators claim that the future of the agreement will probably be bleak, as has been the case with all other previously signed national agreements – including the Bilateral National Agreement on the Application of the Methodology for the Assessment of Jobs and Positions in Enterprises and Organisations (LT0507102N). Even if the agreement’s terms are fairly fulfilled by the present government and signatory groups, it is anticipated that the agreement may be terminated as soon as a new government is appointed.

Views of opponents

The national agreement is also viewed extremely negatively by the social partner organisations that had initially intended to sign the accord but which refused to do so thereafter. The non-signatory organisations argue that the current version of the agreement will increase social exclusion even further. In addition, some doubts have been expressed over the agreement’s constitutionality. According to its opponents, the accord discredits and distorts social dialogue. Moreover, it is even considered by some as ‘being beneficial merely to the government, large businesses and leaders of individual negotiating trade unions’. Opponents of the agreement argue that it is ‘simply intended to camouflage the already made decisions of the government, wherewith all burden of the slump is placed on the shoulders of ordinary people’.

Against this background, opponents of the national agreement – including trade unions representing law enforcement officers, doctors, teachers and librarians, as well as the Assembly of Active Mothers and other public groups opposing the accord – initiated interim talks and more proactive coordination of their actions. More specifically, the organisations are planning to cooperate in launching various civil initiatives seeking to guarantee more transparent social dialogue processes and the equal sharing of the social and economic burden.

Position of signatory social partners

The trade unions and employer organisations that signed the national agreement concede that the accord does not include all of the provisions originally envisaged, adding that it had been reached through a compromise between all of the parties. According to the Chair of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (Lietuvos profesinių sąjungų konfederacija, LPSK), Artūras Černiauskas, LPSK is not fully satisfied about the reduction in social benefits but agreed to sign the document for the sake of future dialogue. On the other hand, employer organisations agreed to the increase in social insurance contributions, even though this creates an extra financial burden for them.

Despite these concessions, the signatory social partner organisations still insist that the agreement was worth signing. According to the Chair of LPSK, ‘the government coordinates nearly all decisions with trade unions, holds consultancies and asks for recommendations’ after signing the agreement. Moreover, the national agreement is only considered as a starting point in the process of building dialogue with the authorities. In the future, it is planned to add certain protocols to the agreement to entrench a number of arrangements that are favourable to the social partners and the social groups represented by them – for example, provisions encouraging the establishment of tripartite councils at ministries or policies promoting small and medium-sized enterprises.

Inga Blažienė, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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