European trade unions call for better pay in collective rally
In April 2008, the European Trade Union Confederation and its Slovenian member organisation, the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia, organised a European demonstration for higher pay in Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. The Slovenian trade unions expect that this mobilisation will support them in their fight for higher wages and in concluding the intersectoral collective agreement CAMPA 2008–2009 in the private sector.
Together with trade union members from all over Europe, Slovenia’s trade union members demonstrated on 5 April 2008 in the capital city, Ljubljana, demanding better pay and a fairer share of company profits. The demonstration took place on the same day as the EU’s finance ministers, representatives of the European Central Bank (ECB) and national banks – all of whom comprise the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) – met for an informal meeting in the Brdo mansion north of Ljubljana. The Euro-demonstration formed part of the ongoing pay campaign of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) – ‘On the offensive for fair wages’ – and was organised by ETUC and its Slovenian member organisation, the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) (SI0210102F). It was the first demonstration of its kind to be organised in one of the new EU Member States.
All of ETUC’s national member organisations sent their representatives to participate in the Euro-demonstration. According to an ETUC press release, some 35,000 trade unionists from 54 trade union organisations and about 30 countries took to the streets of Ljubljana and assembled at the Congress square in the city centre, thereby showing that stagnating wages and purchasing power is a common problem affecting workers across Europe.
ETUC demands raised at European level
Earlier on that day, a delegation of ETUC representatives held a meeting with the Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Janša, to discuss current issues affecting European workers, including the minimum wage, the share of salaries in gross domestic product (GDP), the equitable distribution of income and the gender pay gap. Mr Janša promised that, in the coming weeks and months, ETUC’s demands would be raised at European level, as well as in all of the committees in which Slovenia – as the current EU presidency country – was addressing these problems.
ETUC’s General Secretary, John Monks, addressed the press together with Prime Minister Janša. In their press statement, Mr Monks emphasised that ETUC wanted their message to go from the streets in Ljubljana directly to the participants of the ECOFIN meeting, who were discussing the economic and financial policy of the EU, and the global financial crisis.
Furthermore, ETUC insists that trade unions must have the freedom to undertake collective wage bargaining without the interference of governments, finance ministers and the ECB. According to the President of ZSSS, Dušan Semolič, the latter are responsible for the decline in living standards of workers, due to their common policy of wage restraint. Regarding the situation in Slovenia, Mr Semolič added that the Slovenian workers are currently the victims of growing inflation to which they did not contribute in any way. While wage growth affects inflation, it appears that the current slowdown in growth is largely linked to a cooling of the international environment. Therefore, pay increases are not causing the present rise in inflation. On the contrary, they have been lagging behind the level of productivity growth for many years. Mr Semolič emphasised that the Slovenian trade unions did not demand wage rises which would exceed the productivity growth.
Demonstration of support for Slovenian unions
The Slovenian trade unions expect that the Euro-demonstration will support them in their fight for higher wages and in concluding the private sector intersectoral collective agreement on the pay adjustment method, the refund of work-related expenses and the annual leave bonus in 2008–2009 (CAMPA 2008–2009). The intersectoral agreement would also provide for the pay adjustment in line with the unexpected high inflation in 2007 (SI0803019I, SI0712049I). The trade unions considered the Euro-demonstration a ‘second wave’ of action following the ‘first wave’ in the form of the general warning strike in the private sector on 12 March 2008 (SI0803039I). This second wave of action strengthened the trade unions’ bargaining position at the new round of private sector negotiations on pay rises, which began on 14 April 2008.
Even Prime Minister Janša endorsed ETUC’s demand to bring wages in all EU Member States into line with productivity. He further mentioned that this was also the guiding principle set out in the social agreement signed in Slovenia in 2007.
However, up until now, the Slovenian employers objected to the trade unions’ demand to adjust wages in line with the high and increasing productivity growth, despite the country’s favourable economic situation showing a surprisingly high economic growth rate and profits. Moreover, the employers also refused to adjust wages according to the high inflation rate, which is the highest in the eurozone and continues to rise. According to the annual index of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (Statistični urad Republike Slovenije, SURS), inflation stood at 6.9% in March 2008. The annual index shows the price changes in the current month compared with those of the same month in the previous year.
In light of this, it should be noted that, in 2007, about 122,000 private sector workers had a net monthly income ranging from €391 up to €473, which corresponds to a gross monthly wage of between €538.53 and €662.97. This means that more than a quarter of Slovenian workers live in poverty and that the gap between the different social strata is growing.
At the ZSSS press conference, the union’s President, Mr Semolič, underlined that in Slovenia it is even more evident than in other EU Member States that the share of pay in GDP is falling and the share of profits in GDP is increasing.
Experts believe that the Euro-demonstration had a great impact on public opinion and the political climate in Slovenia.
When comparing consumer prices on a harmonised basis across the EU, it is evident that goods and services prices continue to increase at a relatively high rate in Slovenia, while the agreement on pay and pay adjustment has not yet been concluded between the social partners. Measured with the harmonised index of consumer prices, in February 2008, the annual inflation rate in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) countries was 3.3% – up from 3.2% in January – while in the EU27 it remained unchanged from January at 3.4%. The highest annual inflation rate was recorded in Latvia (16.5%) and the lowest in the Netherlands (2%), while it stood at 6.4% in Slovenia.
Štefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development