General strike in public sector held

A one-day general strike was called in January after the Slovenian government announced that it would cut public sector pay by 5%. Trade unions protested that there had been no consultation, and demanded that the new national 2013–2014 budget should freeze the public wage bill but not cut it. However, even after the strike by 100,000 public sector employees, the government agreed only to discuss how to achieve the 5% savings it was seeking, whether through pay cuts or staff reductions.

General public sector strike

On 23 January 2013, around 100,000 public sector employees took part in a one-day strike in protest at the government's plan to cut the public sector wage bill by 5%. Trade unions representing public sector employees said that the cut had not been negotiated with them before being included in the budgets for 2013 and 2014. A similar strike had taken place the year before, on 18 April 2012 (SI1208011I).

Public sector employees who took part in the 2013 strike included:

  • workers in healthcare and social centres;
  • police officers (although the smaller of the two police unions, the Trade Union of Police Officers (SPS) did not take part);
  • kindergartens and schools;
  • other parts of the public sector.

Public services halted

The strike caused many public services to grind to a halt and others to offer limited services as, in all sectors, workers carried out only the minimum activities determined by the law.

The effects were most evident in the education sector. Thousands of children stayed at home as 695 schools and kindergartens were closed. In total, together with cultural and research organisations, more than 760 organisations took part in the strike.

In the healthcare sector, doctors did not join the strike. However, other medical staff did take part and activities were limited to weekend duty work. The same happened at social care institutions, including homes for elderly people.

The public broadcaster, Radio and Television Slovenia (RTV Slovenija), expressed solidarity with public sector employees by dedicating a larger chunk of programming to the strike.

The unions also held rallies in a number of cities; around 5,000 people gathered in the centre of Ljubljana.

Strike demands

In response to the strike action, the government said that the two sides could discuss how to cut the public sector wage bill, whether by laying off employees or cutting pay, but insisted that the wage bill had to be cut by 5%. The trade unions refused to consider any cuts, and said that the government should begin to negotiate and recognise them as equal social partners.

Payment during the strike

The government said that public sector employees on strike would not be entitled to pay for the day, arguing that it was not a legal strike since it had not been called over any violation of collective bargaining agreements.

The unions responded that an agreement reached last year following the similar strike in April 2012 had been violated. The government then made a commitment to consult the unions over all new measures affecting the public sector.

Ultimately, the strikers were paid.

Union and government positions

The public sector trade unions said the strike had persuaded the government that it should open talks with the social partners.

They continued to insist that any future negotiations over the public sector wage bill should include the size of the cut given that the austerity measures adopted last year had already cut into the real value of pay. They also said that they would not allow the introduction of any additional measures without dialogue, and that there had been no real negotiations so far.

However, Janez Janša, Prime Minister at the time of the strike, said the government could not change a figure that had been confirmed by parliament, and that a budget that had just been adopted could not be further debated.

Commentary

In March 2013, the centre-right coalition led by Janez Janša collapsed after a year in power, following disputes over austerity measures and corruption allegations. The opposition leader Alenka Bratušek took over as Prime Minister.

On 8 April 2013, the new government and public sector trade unions launched talks on cutting €158 million from the public sector wage bill for 2013. The government proposes that savings of almost €86 million can be achieved by lowering various bonuses and cutting compensation for sick leave.

Štefan Skledar, UMAR

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