Strikes over 1998-2002 examined

There are no reliable official data on strikes in Slovenia, and the main source of information is the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) which produces figures on strikes organised in individual companies by its sectoral member unions. This article examines the ZSSS data for 1998-2002, which indicate that strike activity has been decreasing

Recognition of the right to strike and the adoption of new regulations on strikes (SI0211101F) was one of the most important aspects of the changes in the industrial relations system in Slovenia during the period of political and economic transformation since the late 1980s. Previously, the political ideology of 'self-management' in the former Yugoslavia involved a 'corporatist' concept of strikes (see 'Strikes as a form of protection of collective interests'[in Slovene], V Lednik, in Trade union law, Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljubljana, 1992). No antagonism was officially regarded as existing between the interests of workers and employers ('we are all in the same boat'), and they were meant to cooperate in the name of higher state or national interests. In such a system, strikes were not seen as logical and were a 'taboo issue'. The recognition of strikes since the late 1980s (though the argument that 'we are all in the same boat' is still heard in some quarters) has contributed to Slovenia's progress towards democracy and EU membership (TN0301101S), which requires the 'stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law [and] human rights'. However, the state has not yet taken steps to provide the relevant statistical data on industrial action, including strikes.

Lack of reliable statistics

In Slovenia, the collection of data on strikes and other industrial action is not regulated. Data is not collected properly and is incomplete. In 1993, the International Labour Organisation's International Conference of Labour Statisticians adopted a resolution setting out a uniform set of definitions for the recording of statistics related to labour disputes, but it has not been put into practice in Slovenia.

Only the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) (SI0210102F), the largest union organisation, has compiled and analysed data on strikes since 1992 (see Main characteristics of strikes in the years 1994-7[in Slovene], P Vrhovec, ZSSS, Ljubljana, 1998, and Strike movement in ZSSS 1998-2002[n Slovene], P Vrhovec, ZSSS, Ljubljana, 2003). This information, however, includes only those strikes organised by ZSSS affiliates in individual companies and is a relevant indicator of strike activity only in production industry. Because ZSSS is the only organisation collecting and analysing data on strikes, these figures are used not only by ZSSS but also by various institutions and individuals for research purposes.

Basic indicators on strikes

Tables 1 to 4 below provide information for Slovenia as a whole and for some sectors on four basic strike indicators: the number of working hours lost through strikes; the number of workers involved in strikes; the number of strikes; and the average duration of strikes.

Data deficiencies

The data presented, from ZSSS, have been produced with little in the way of clear concepts, definitions and methodology for their collection, compilation and publication. They are not comparable and are incomplete. The data cover the period from 1998 to 2002. However, the figures for 2002 are only partial, covering the period from 1 January to 7 November.

The data do not show how many strikes were organised in certain sectors, but only how many strikes were organised by sectoral ZSSS member trade unions organising workers in certain sectors. Because this information includes only those strikes organised by ZSSS - ie mainly in production industry (sectoral unions 3-7 and 10 in the tables) - it excludes those in certain service sectors, mainly in the public services (health, education, railways etc) where ZSSS has few members and where any strikes are organised mainly on the sectoral level (the whole sector or occupation is called out on strike). This also means that the data for sectors such as financial organisations and transport and communications are not reliable because strikes organised by other trade union organisations are not taken into account. The strongest sectoral union organisation in the banking sector is the Slovenian Banking Union (Sindikat delavcev bank in hranilnic Slovenije, SBS), established in April 1990 after separating from ZSSS, which is not a member of any umbrella trade union organisation. A similar situation exists in the railway sector. Therefore the data presented are a relevant indicator of strike trends only in production industry, although ZSSS is also dominant in certain private service sectors such as retail . However, even for production industry the absolute numbers are not reliable because, for example, the whole pulp and paper industry is missing, as are data for strikes organised by other smaller trade union confederations.

The data do not include general strikes and strikes organised at the level of sectors (eg the railways) or occupations (eg doctors), but only strikes organised in individual companies. Sectoral strikes are organised mainly in the public service sectors where ZSSS has few members. These factors mean that in certain years the data on working hours lost through strikes and on the number of workers involved in strikes are not reliable, even for production industry. ZSSS organised its first general strike in 1994, lasting four hours, when the government froze wages. The next general strike, lasting one hour, was organised in 1996 when the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije, GZS) denounced the general collective agreement for the private sector. On 25 February 2004, seven industry sectoral unions affiliated to ZSSS held a one-hour general warning strike in which almost 120,000 workers took part (SI0403101F). This means that almost 120,000 working hours were lost. The fact that general strikes are not taken into account thus makes a great difference, considering that in 2000, for example, a total of only 54,009 working hours were lost through strikes. Although taking into account such 'one-off' events as general strikes could make the assessment of long-term trends more difficult, it could indicate changes in trade unions' strike strategy and make the assessment of damage caused by strikes more reliable.

Strike trends

The main strike wave occurred in Slovenia in the period 1991-7 when in each year, except 1997, more than 100 strikes were organised (SI0211101F). In 1998 the number of strikes fell sharply and continued to diminish in the period up until 2002 - see table 1 below. The greatest number of strikes over 1998-2002 were organised in companies in the metal and electro-industry, textiles and leather-processing, construction and the wood-processing industry

Table 1. Number of strikes, 1998-2002, by ZSSS sectoral member unions
Sectoral member union 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002* 1998-2002
1. Financial organisations 1 0 0 0 0 1
2. Catering and tourism 1 1 0 1 0 3
3. Construction 6 2 3 2 3 16
4. Chemicals, rubber and non-metal 2 1 0 0 0 3
5. Agriculture and food production 1 2 0 0 1 4
6. Metal and electro-industry 6 8 6 7 8 35
7. Wood-processing 4 4 3 2 1 14
8. Craft 1 1 3 0 1 6
9. Transport and communications 2 0 0 0 0 2
10. Textiles and leather processing 10 3 3 3 4 23
11. Retail 0 0 0 1 1 2
12. Firefighting 0 1 1 0 0 2
Total 34 23 19 16 19 111

Source: ZSSS; * figures cover period from 1 January to 7 November 2002 only.

Tables 2 and 3 below indicate the number of working hours lost through strikes and the number of workers involved. The number of hours lost fell sharply until 2000, but increased in 2001 before falling off slightly in 2002. The most hours were lost over the period in the metal and electro-industry and textiles and leather processing. The number of workers involved in strikes fell over the 1998-2002 period, with the highest overall figure recorded in the textiles and leather-processing industry.

Table 2. Working hours lost through strikes, 1998-2002, by ZSSS sectoral member unions
Sectoral member union 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002* 1998-2002
1. Financial organisations 8,680 0 0 0 0 8,680
2. Catering and tourism 2,160 3,456 0 1,152 0 6,768
3. Construction 55,840 2,872 15,447 560 2,702 77,421
4. Chemicals, rubber and non-metal 17,120 1,032 0 0 0 18,152
5. Agriculture and food production 384 7,376 0 0 3,120 10,880
6. Metal and electro-industry 80,900 117,608 20,308 95,704 17,680 332,200
7. Wood-processing 18,320 17,380 4,480 1,568 3,072 44,820
8. Craft 120 1,248 3,648 0 9,600 14,616
9. Transport and communications 19,552 0 0 0 0 19,552
10. Textiles and leather processing 104,984 2,776 9,982 12,111 127,072 256,925
11. Retail 0 0 0 89,232 18,480 107,712
12. Firefighting 0 432 144 0 0 576
Total 308,060 154,180 54,009 200,327 181,726 898,302

Source: ZSSS; * figures cover period from 1 January to 7 November 2002 only.

Table 3. Number of workers involved in strikes, 1998-2002, by ZSSS sectoral member unions
Sectoral member union - industry 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002* 1998-2002 TOTAL
1. Financial organisations 35 0 0 0 0 35
2. Catering and tourism 135 36 0 18 0 189
3. Construction 480 83 254 20 202 1,049
4. Chemicals, rubber and non-metal 210 129 0 0 0 339
5. Agriculture and food production 12 44 0 0 65 121
6. Metal and electro-industry 239 958 705 1,072 425 3,399
7. Wood-processing 892 1,374 180 196 128 2,770
8. Craft 15 52 228 0 200 495
9. Transport and communications 188 0 0 0 0 188
10. Textiles and leather processing 3,626 407 511 441 794 5,779
11. Retail 0 0 0 169 66 235
12. Firefighting 0 72 72 0 0 144
Total 5,832 3,155 1,960 1,916 1,880 14,743

Source: ZSSS; * figures cover period from 1 January to 7 November 2002 only.

Although the number of strikes diminished over 1998-2002, table 4 below indicates that in the last two years examined the strikes lasted much longer on average than in previous years. In 2001 and 2002, they lasted around 100 hours on average - nearly twice as long as in 1998.

Table 4. Average duration of strikes in hours, 1998-2002
. 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002*
Number of strikes 34 23 19 16 19
Working hours lost through strikes 308,060 154,180 54,009 200,327 181,726
Average duration of strikes 52.82 48.87 27.56 104.55 96.66

Source: ZSSS; * figures cover period from 1 January to 7 November 2002 only.

Reasons for strikes

Table 5 shows the the most important cause of strikes over 1998-2002. The most important was wages in arrears by one month, followed by wages in arrears by two months. However, in the majority of cases workers did not go on strike for one reason only: for example, in addition to an employer's failure to pay wages for the previous month, they might also go on strike because they did not receive the annual holiday bonus for the previous year or compensation for meals and transport. There were many cases when workers on strike, after not receiving wages for several months, proposed a bankruptcy procedure to the company management, thus obtaining unemployment benefit at least. The high level of wages arrears cases raises the question of whether the labour and social courts are active and effective enough to help workers get the wages owed.

Table 5. Number of strikes according to main cause of the strike, 1998-2002
Main cause or demand 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002* Total Share in %
Wages arrears for previous month 8 8 5 9 5 35 31.5
Wages arrears for previous two months 9 4 3 3 7 26 23.4
Wages arrears for previous three months 5 4 2 0 2 13 11.7
Wages arrears for more than previous three months 0 1 0 0 0 1 0.9
Untimely payment of wages regarding the date in the collective agreement 0 1 1 1 1 4 3.6
Too low wages, demand for wage rise 1 0 0 2 0 3 2.7
Wage payment not in accordance with the collective agreement 2 3 0 0 1 6 5.4
Holiday bonus not paid 5 0 2 1 0 8 7.2
Demand for resignation of director or management of company or establishment 1 0 1 0 0 2 1.8
Other 3 2 5 0 3 13 11.8
Total 34 23 19 16 19 111 100.0

Source: ZSSS; * figures cover period from 1 January to 7 November 2002 only.

Commentary

It is important that the state should establish and maintain a reliable, permanent and complete database and overview of all industrial action (notably all forms of collective action taken by workers against employers in pursuit of their claims or grievances, including strikes, protests and demonstrations etc). The ILO resolution mentioned above says that 'each country should aim at developing a comprehensive programme of statistics of strikes, lock-outs and where relevant other action due to labour disputes in order to provide an adequate statistical base for the various uses'. By putting this resolution into practice, the Ministry for Labour, Family and Social Affairs - which has promised concrete measures in this field, but not yet taken them - would improve the information available to the social partners and for its own use. This would also be of great help to academics and researchers and promote research in the field of industrial relations in general. Another factor is that Slovenia will join the EU on 1 May 2004 and various European institutions and organisations are thus demanding more and more information and analyses on industrial action in the country.

Because the problem of reliable and comparable data on industrial action exists in many current and new EU Member States, the European Commission and Eurostat should help to address the issue through concrete measures at EU level. (Stefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development, IMAD)

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