Unions continue to fight for right to strike

Lithuanian unions have protested at recent court decisions which have effectively removed workers’ right to strike. During 2011 and 2012, a number of rulings blocked planned strikes. On 16 January 2013, trade unions picketed near court buildings to raise government and public awareness of the problem. Unions are also calling for discussions with Lithuania’s tripartite council and planning to seek international help to regain workers’ rights to take industrial action.

Protests outside court buildings

On 16 January 2013, exactly four years after a trade union protest ended in rioting (LT0901019I), union members picketed near court buildings to raise public awareness of restrictions on the right to strike in Lithuania.

The protests were organised by representatives of the Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarumas’ (LPS ‘Solidarumas’) and the Lithuanian Trade Union of Food Producers (LMPS). The unions are angry about court decisions which effectively ban strikes and have recently ruled a number of ballots unlawful.

Representatives from trade unions from the transport and food producer sectors were joined by leaders of the Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF) and the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK) to demonstrate in front of the headquarters of the Supreme Court of Lithuania (LAT).

The buildings of district courts were also picketed in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Utena.

Recent court rulings

There have been a number of recent cases where courts have ruled strikes to be illegal or unlawful.

Trade unions representing workers at Lithuania’s biggest brewery, UAB Svyturys-Utenos Alus, complained to the government and international organisations in July 2011 after a court banned their industrial action (LT1109019I). The chamber of judges of Klaipeda Regional Court (KAT), having heard the application from the brewery requesting the imposition of interim safeguards, made an interim judgement banning the strike.

National trade unions complained saying the KAT judgement established a judicial precedent in Lithuania for the suspension or postponement of a strike. They said it demonstrated that Lithuanian courts were now in a position to postpone a planned strike for an indefinite period of time or to suspend an ongoing strike.

On 6 March 2012, having heard the appeal of the trade union at the brewery, the Supreme Court upheld the KAT ruling. The court stipulated that:

...where the principle of fair bargaining is complied with by the employer (i.e. there are no unreasonable delays and efforts are taken to reach an agreement) but whenever the parties involved in employment relations nonetheless fail to reach such agreement, employees shall not be entitled to exercise their right to strike.

Then on 13 November 2012, the First District Court of Vilnius (VAT) declared unlawful the results of a secret ballot on token and indefinite strikes held by employees of UAB Vilnius public transport (VVT) on 23–25 October 2012. The court declared unlawful a strike called by VVT for 14 November 2012.

According to lawyers at LPSK, the ban on the transport workers’ strike effectively meant that Lithuanian workers had been deprived of any opportunity to call for a lawful strike. LPSK Lawyer Jolanta Cinaitienė said: ‘The reality is that strikes have become impossible in Lithuania since 2010.’

Unions call for help

In order to defend their right to strike, trade unions have resolved:

  • to put the restriction of the right to strike in Lithuania on the agenda at the next sitting of the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (LRTT);
  • to organise a joint trade union action to raise public and government awareness of the courts’ failure to guarantee the right to fair collective bargaining and organisation of strikes in Lithuania;
  • to apply to international trade union organisations for help in analysing and amending the legal regulation and developed case law in Lithuania.

Inga Blažiene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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