Textile workers strike against low wages

Workers in the textile companies Kali Agro and Slo.vi in the east Slovakian city of Hencovce demanded a 15% wage increase and better working conditions. Management at the companies, owned by VMC Vignoni of Italy, refused and almost 400 workers went on strike on 24 August 2010. It was the first strike in Slovakia since 2007. After several bargaining rounds, members of the Metal Trade Union Association reached an agreement with management and the strike ended on 30 August.

Textile workers demand higher wages

Despite several trade union protests, there had been no strikes in Slovakia for more than three years (SK0704019I). Recently, a labour dispute emerged in two textile companies, Kali Agro and Slo.vi in Hencovce, which are owned by the Italian hosiery manufacturer VMC Vignoni. The Slovakian companies were established in 2009, with the state giving VMC Vignoni aid for creating new jobs, to cover 50% of employee wage costs. According to available data, the average gross wage of employees was €330. The employees complained about low wages and inconvenient working conditions and, during bargaining rounds for a new collective agreement, trade unionists demanded a 15% wage increase. Management did not consider the demand legitimate and refused the raise. According to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of both companies, Ondrej Milčo, the employees did not respect economic reality and were not able to justify their demand for such a large increase. He maintained that the wages in these companies reflected the situation in the region. Nevertheless, management proposed to increase employee wages by 10%.

Trade unionists decide to strike

The demand of the employees to increase average monthly wages by 15% (nearly €50) was also supported by the Metal Trade Union Association (OZ KOVO), to which the employees belong. According to a member of the board of directors of OZ KOVO, Jozef Balica, management offered a smaller raise (around €33), conditional upon full attendance at work and fulfilment of the employer’s performance standards. Trade union negotiators refused the management’s offer and persisted on demanding an increase of €50 a month. They also demanded more realistic performance standards. During five bargaining rounds, management refused the employees’ demands and pointed out that the price of labour is set by the market and not by trade unions. The CEO of the companies warned that strike action could discourage other investors from coming to the region where they would create new jobs. In response, on 24 August 2010, the trade unionists called an open-ended strike, which was supported by almost 400 employees.

Conciliator helped to settle the conflict

The employees announced that they were intent on seeing their demands through and when the strike started they marched through the city in protest. The city government, including its mayor, supported the demands of the employees. According to Mr Balica, the employees were united in their demands and nearly all of them agreed with the strike. ‘We will be on strike till we achieve our demands’, he told the Economic Daily, as reported in a news article (in Slovak) on 25 August 2010. Employees of both companies stopped work and placed strike patrols in front of the factories to ensure that the employer acted in compliance with the act on collective bargaining, which lays down conditions for strikes. The strike could also have influenced the activities of another Vignoni company in the region, VSK in Humenné, whose production is closely related to the activities of the two companies that were on strike. A longer strike would have threatened about 200 jobs there.

In line with the act on collective bargaining, a conciliator nominated by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (MPSVR SR) was asked to help settle the conflict. During the next collective bargaining round, agreement between the trade unionists and management on the wage increase was reached on 30 August 2010. Although the bargaining continued, the trade unionists agreed to end their strike on the same day.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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