General warning strike goes ahead in private sector
On 12 March 2008, a general warning strike was held in Slovenia’s private sector. The strike was organised by all six representative trade union confederations in the private sector and was the third such strike in Slovenia’s history. The trade unions demanded pay adjustments due to high inflation levels and in line with productivity growth in the particular economic sectors.
Following the breakdown in negotiations on the intersectoral collective agreement on the pay adjustment method, the refund of work-related expenses and the annual leave bonus (CAMPA) (SI0803019I), talks on pay increases were resumed in Slovenia. On 18 February 2008, the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) announced a general warning strike in the private sector, planned for 12 March 2008, in the event of unsuccessful negotiations.
Trade union demands
ZSSS put forward the following strike demands, which were higher than those proposed in the previous month:
- conclusion of the collective agreement on extraordinary pay adjustment in 2007 due to unexpectedly high inflation in 2007 (CAEPA) – which the social partners had failed to agree on before (SI0712049I). This agreement would oblige all employers to increase pay levels and should determine the basic pay rise for different tariff classes (see ‘Background on tariff classes’ below) as follows:
- a 10% pay rise for workers ranked within the first to fifth tariff class
- a 5.6% pay rise for workers ranked within the sixth to ninth tariff class
- alternatively, a 6.4% increase – in line with annual inflation between January 2007 and January 2008 – for workers in the first to ninth tariff classes, if it is preferable for workers in the particular sectors involved and agreed on with the sectoral trade union.
- a minimum wage rise of €50 – agreed on through dialogue with the government, which determines the minimum wage;
- conclusion of the private sector CAMPA 2008–2009 (SI0607039I), which should ensure a further basic pay adjustment – including the second basic pay adjustment in August 2008 according to annual inflation;
- ensuring that sectoral collective agreements should determine pay adjustment in line with productivity growth in the particular sectors of the economy – more specifically, by at least 20% of productivity growth in the previous year. This is set to be the method of reaching the European level of pay in the future. Adjusting pay to inflation growth to protect the real pay level is deemed insufficient.
Background information on tariff classes
All collective agreements in the private sector stipulate job pay categories – of which there are usually nine – on the basis of their requirements, so that differences in pay relate to differences in job requirements. The latter requirements are, in turn, determined on the basis of the level of education required to perform a certain job. These nine categories are known as ‘tariff classes’. The starting pay is determined for each tariff class. The first tariff class – which applies to simple tasks or work – represents those jobs which do not even require a completed primary education and have the lowest starting pay. The ninth tariff class – which applies to exceptionally important and high-demanding work – represents those jobs which require doctoral degrees as a rule. In each company, the various jobs are classified according to these nine tariff classes (SI0712049I).
Strike goes ahead
As no compromise was reached in the pay talks, the general warning strike went ahead on 12 March 2008 in Slovenia’s private sector. The strike was organised by all six representative private sector trade union confederations (SI0210102F) – ZSSS, Independence, Confederation of New Trade Unions of Slovenia (Neodvisnost, Konfederacija novih sindikatov Slovenije, KNSS), the Confederation of Trade Unions of Slovenia Pergam (Konfederacija sindikatov Pergam Slovenije, KSS Pergam), the Confederation of Trade Unions ’90 of Slovenia (Konfederacija sindikatov ’90 Slovenije, Konfederacija ’90), the Slovene Union of Trade Unions Alternativa (Slovenska zveza sindikatov Alternativa, Alternativa) and the Union of Workers’ Trade Unions of Slovenia – Solidarity (Zveza delavskih sindikatov Slovenije – Solidarnost, Solidarnost). It was the third general strike in Slovenia’s history – the first one taking place in 1992 and the second one in 1996. About 165,000 workers took part in the strike.
ZSSS determined the general timeframe of the strike, which ran from 6.00 in the morning to 22.00 at night. Nonetheless, the timing of the strike varied in the different companies and no unified approach was maintained: instead, each company’s trade union decided independently and informed the employer about the time and way the strike would be carried out in the company. In certain companies, the strike lasted for two hours, while in others it ran for four, eight or more hours.
In the retail sector, workers in some companies stopped working. In other companies, so-called ‘white strikes’ or ‘work-to-rule strikes’ took place, whereby workers adhered to all regulations and organisational instructions.
Participating trade unions
The following sectoral member trade unions affiliated to ZSSS joined in the strike:
- the Retail Workers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat delavcev trgovine Slovenije, SDTS) (SI0604019I);
- the Chemical, Non-metal and Rubber Industry Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat kemične, nekovinske in gumarske industrije Slovenije, KNG);
- the Municipal Public Utilities, Security and Real Estate Workers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat komunale, varovanja in poslovanja z nepremičninami Slovenije, SKVINS);
- the Textiles and Leather Processing Industry Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat tekstilne in usnjarsko-predelovalne industrije Slovenije, STUPIS) (SI0610029I);
- the Energy Workers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat delavcev energetike Slovenije, SDE);
- the Transport and Communications Workers’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat delavcev prometa in zvez Slovenije, SDPZ).
By carrying out special activities – such as extraordinary meetings of workers – the following member trade unions also took part in the strike for solidarity reasons:
- the Financial Organisations’ Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat finančnih organizacij Slovenije, SFOS);
- the Catering and Tourism Workers’ Union of Slovenia (Sindikat delavcev gostinstva in turizma Slovenije, GIT) (SI0709019I);
- the Agriculture and Food Processing Industry Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat kmetijske in živilske industrije Slovenije, KŽI).
Employers attempt to illegally prevent strike
At a press conference, ZSSS informed the public of a number of measures which had been taken by employers on the day of the strike, in order to prevent or discourage workers from going on strike. For example:
- the retail company OBI in Slovenia’s second largest city of Maribor in the northeast issued a written order to workers at two of its shops to swap location for the day;
- in some companies, employers had photographs and videos taken of workers on strike;
- other employers asked workers on strike to provide their names and signatures;
- in another instance, employers asked workers on strike to leave the factory and record their absence, thus accusing them of breaching their work duty;
- some employers threatened part-time workers that they would not renew their part-time employment contracts if they went on strike.
Moreover, the Law on Strikes (SI0211101F) determines that when announcing the strike, the trade unions in some companies must agree with the employer on the type and amount of work which must be performed during the strike, in order to prevent major economic damage. However, some employers did not want to agree to this in order to prevent workers from going on strike. These employers said that the workers would cause damage and for this reason that they would prosecute those who went on strike.
ZSSS did not reveal other details of these cases or the names of the companies involved – apart from the retail company OBI – in order to protect the trade union officials in these companies against pressure from the employers. However, the trade union confederation collected all concrete evidence on such cases and reported them to the Slovenian Labour Inspectorate (Inšpektorat Republike Slovenije za delo, IRSD), which reacted very quickly.
The Secretary General of the SDPZ, Cvetka Gliha, claimed that postal workers did not take part in the strike because, on the day before the strike, the employers at the Post of Slovenia (Pošta Slovenije, PS) informed them that, in their opinion, the strike would not be in accordance with the law and that workers would therefore be breaching their work duty by taking part in the strike.
On 20 March 2008, ZSSS called on employer organisations to begin negotiations on the conclusion of the intersectoral CAMPA 2008–2009 in the private sector, which would also regulate pay adjustment according to the inflation levels in 2007. On 2 April 2008, the trade unions accepted the employers’ proposal to resume the negotiations on 14 April 2008.
Štefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development