Slovenia: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

Public sector strikes, reactions to the minimum wage increase reactions and the postponement of new social and labour legislation are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Slovenia in the first quarter of 2018.

Wave of strikes in public sector

The public sector trade unions announced a wave of strikes by civil servants at the end of 2017. The first of these, organised by the negotiating group of representative public sector unions (PSRSJS), took place on 24 January 2018 and sought to protect the unified public sector pay system. The 16 trade unions involved demanded comparable wages to those of doctors, the elimination of austerity measures, higher holiday allowances and wage increases of between 8% and 20%.

The Police Trade Union of Slovenia (PSS) and the Trade Union of Police Officers of Slovenia (SPS) went on strike on 12 February. The following day, social care and healthcare workers, including the Ljubljana Clinical Centre (UKC), held a token strike where they urged the government to abolish austerity measures, increase wages and offer more job security to staff.

On 14 February, teachers in the Education, Science and Culture Trade Union of Slovenia (SVIZ) organised the largest demonstration in the public sector since the country’s independence. More than 30,000 employees came together to demand that the wage gap – caused by separate government agreements with doctors and police officers – be eliminated.

Minister of Public Administration Boris Koprivnikar estimated that meeting the requests of all four trade unions would cost Slovenia around €1 billion and potentially lead to another recession. Employers called on the government to reduce labour taxes rather than increase public sector pay, which would likely lead to a net pay increase for the private and public sectors.

SVIZ staged another strike on 14 March, following an unsuccessful attempt to reach an agreement with the government. Two days later, Prime Minister Miro Cerar resigned, the government lost its full power and the trade unions became divided. SVIZ suspended its plans for a general strike and decided to wait for the new government, while the 16 public sector unions expected talks to continue. Secretary General Lilijana Kozlovič said that the government was ready to respond to the demands, but only when it reached an agreement with all the unions.

Mixed reactions from social partners to minimum wage increase

In 2017, political party Levica launched a debate to make the minimum wage the lowest basic wage for full-time work. SVIZ demanded that allowances such as seniority or business performance should be exempt and said this could account for up to 15–20% of a final salary. The Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) proposed a renewed wage model, where basic wages correspond to actual work costs.

In January 2018, the Minister for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Anja Kopač Mrak proposed a 4.7% increase in the minimum wage, taking into account productivity and GDP growth. The reactions from social partners were mixed. Trade unions thought the increase should be higher, while employers protested that increased work costs could cause financial problems for some companies. The minister highlighted that the average wage increased by 4.2% and companies’ profits 17 fold in 2013–2017, while the minimum wage only increased by 2%.

The minister believes that Slovenian companies will be able to absorb the new labour costs, as the difference between the country’s lowest wages and the minimum wage is small. However, businesses point out that this will put small companies with minimal profits at risk of bankruptcy or relocation to a more favourable business environment.

Social legislation on hold due to outgoing government

The Prime Minister’s resignation has affected the adoption of more than 10 new social and labour laws from the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. The Act on Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities is the most important of these, as it will improve the economic and social situation of many people with disabilities.

The new law supports those with severe autism, brain damage and visual or auditory impairments for the first time. It also addresses the problem of young people who became disabled before they started work and are not currently entitled to the same rights under the retirement and health insurance legislation. These young people will now be able to find work and retain their rights after their employment ends.

Among the new law’s most important improvements is the introduction of social inclusion and support services for people with disabilities including independent living training, lifelong learning, living assistance and services for older people.

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