Journalists strike over collective agreement

Journalists in Slovenia went on strike in early October 2004 in a dispute over renewal of their national collective agreement, with the Union of Slovenian Journalists (SNS) demanding talks with employers over changes to the agreement, including higher pay scales. The strike was suspended after three days. While the employers did not accept all the union's demands, negotiations have started.

On 9 June 2004, the Union of Slovenian Journalists (Sindikat novinarjev Slovenije, SNS) sent to employers' organisations a draft of a renewed national collective agreement for journalists (Kolektivne pogodbe za poklicne novinarje, KPPN) and demanded negotiations on this draft. SNS claimed that changes in areas such as legislation, technology, the marketing of journalists’ output and the ownership structure of media companies necessitate the renewal of the current KPPN. The SNS draft includes:

  • the adjustment of the collective and individual rights and obligations of journalists to changed occupational norms and labour legislation (eg the new Law on Labour Relations - SI0206101N);
  • the regulation of the status of independent and freelance journalists;
  • the improvement of the relative pay position and absolute pay of journalists; and
  • the regulation of copyright, from which the journalists as a rule currently do not receive any payment.

SNS states that the real and relative pay of journalists has diminished considerably in recent years in relation to other comparable professions. In some media companies, the real wages of the journalists are increasing, while in others they are the same as the basic pay determined by the KPPN agreement, and in some even below the basic pay. Only in a few media companies is the pay of journalists comparable with the pay of groups such as teachers and doctors (because of public sector reforms, teachers and doctors have achieved a relatively good pay position). Therefore, SNS proposes talks over the pay part of the KPPN every year or every half year, with the aim of making journalists' pay comparable with that of teachers and doctors by 2005 or 2006.

The situation of freelance journalists and journalists without employment rights (who work on the basis of 'author contracts') is not currently regulated and is claimed that legislation is thus evaded. The difference between the income of journalists regularly employed on open-ended contracts and that of independent journalists is too great, according to SNS. A number of journalists are thus in an excluded position, although individual media companies are achieving good financial results, it is claimed. Young journalists are not being employed, the quality of the journalistic work has fallen considerably and commercial interests have taken a leading role ahead of professional interests, states SNS. Therefore the union proposes that, in cases where independent journalists fill regular work duties, their status should be equal to that of regularly employed journalists. For the journalists who work for a number of media companies on the basis of author contracts, SNS demands that the price of their work should include the cost of social security cover.

The first KPPN was concluded in December 1991. However, thereafter there were practically no regular working contacts or practical cooperation between the parties. The parties to the agreement last amended it in 1994 when they determined new basic pay scales, which have been unchanged since then. Negotiations on the KPPN began in 1995 but no agreement was reached. In 1998, after several unsuccessful rounds of negotiations, two employers’ organisations (ZTM and ZNRPS - see below) denounced the agreement in writing.

Employers' reactions

Media employers are represented by three organisations:

  • the Association for Press and Media (Združenje za tisk in medije, ZTM), the most important organisation representing the interests of employers and part of a sectoral organisation of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Slovenia (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije, GZS) (SI0211102F);
  • the Association of Non-Commercial Radio Stations of Slovenia (Združenje nekomercialnih radijskih postaj Slovenije, ZNRPS); and
  • the Council of Radio and Television of Slovenia (Svet radia in televizije Slovenije, Svet RTVS).

The first two bodies represent the private sector and the third public employers. They do not always find 'a common language'.

ZTM and its president, Rina Klinar (a former Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs and now the director of a local radio station, Radio Triglav), rejected the SNS call for negotiations over the renewal of the KPPN. It argued, controversially, that ZTM had withdrawn from the agreement, but that the agreement is still valid. Individual media companies should decide independently whether they are parties to the KPPN or not. ZTM also stated that the employment relationships of journalists could be regulated by some other sectoral collective agreements (which are not specific to the occupation).

ZTM states that it is not possible to solve all journalists' problems by means of the KPPN. ZTM claims that the agreement can regulate only the employment relationships of employed journalists and not the conditions of freelance journalists and contributors working for a fee. It argues that the economic, political and legal situation has changed considerably since 1991, when the KPPN was concluded. Then the employers were companies that were predominantly in 'societal ownership'- the development of private entrepreneurship in the media sector began only after 1993. Furthermore, for the continuation of the social dialogue and negotiations it is also necessary to determine the competences of the ZTM management board. Some media companies are not members of ZTM because they are officially classified in a different sector, and the KPPN does not apply to them. Moreover, the financial situation of smaller media companies is very difficult. Finally, ZTM states that the situation of the publicly owned Radio and Television of Slovenia (Radio in televizija Slovenije, RTVS), which is not a part of the private sector, should be dealt with separately.

ZNRPS did not respond to the SNS's request for negotiations.

Svet RTVS initially stated that it no longer wanted to be a signatory of the KPPN, but did not exclude completely the possibility negotiations. Later, RTVS declared that it did recognise the agreement and was willing to negotiate.

SNS response

SNS responded to the employers that their denunciation of the KPPN was illegal because it did not follow the procedure laid down in that agreement. The KPPN's procedure for the resolution of disputes of interest (ie where the parties can not agree on the conclusion of the agreement or a change to it) lays down that the employers have 30 days to reply to a proposal for a change to the agreement. If the employers do not accept the proposal or do not reply, the matter is referred to an 'adjustment commission'. If the parties are still in dispute, the case is then referred to a reconciliation commission and finally to an arbitration council. The arbitration council consists of three members (and their deputies), with each side nominating one member and the third one being nominated by agreement between the two sides. If there is no agreement on this point, the third member is nominated by the government. The decision of the arbitration council is final (SNS is proposing that the third member of the council be determined by lot and not by the government, but some questions regarding this procedure still remain unclear).

The view expressed by the employers that journalists' employment relationships can be regulated by some other sectoral collective agreements is, says SNS, contrary to the legal order of Slovenia. The union points out that in many other EU Member States the employment relationships of journalists are regulated by specific national occupational collective agreements. In addition, SNS claims that ZTM's view that it has withdrawn from the KPPN but that the agreement is still valid is causing anarchy on the media market and making possible the exploitation of journalists.

The 1991 KPPN is still registered as valid in the Ministry for Labour, Family and Social Affairs collective agreement register (SI0401103F). Since 1991, no change concerning the signatories of the agreement has been recorded.

Strike held

When the employers replied twice that they were not signatories of the KPPN and therefore not prepared to negotiate on its renewal (SI0410301N), SNS called a strike. The main demand of SNS was that negotiations on the renewal of the KPPN begin as quickly as possible. Its other claims included the adjustment of the KPPN's pay scales and the withdrawal by the employers of their earlier denunciation. SNS set a deadline of 19.00 on 1 October 2004 for the employers to respond on whether they were prepared to negotiate. Just before the deadline, SNS sent to the employers a compromise proposal including only one demand (the rest were withdrawn), asking if the employers were prepared to negotiate on changes and supplements to the KPPN. After not receiving a satisfactory answer, SNS took a final decision to go on strike and declared that the strike would end when the negotiations on the KPPN began. A general strike of journalists thus began on 3 October 2004, the day of Slovenia's general election.

According to SNS, around 2,000 journalists went on strike. However, after some movement on the employer side - short of accepting all the unions' demands - the SNS strike committee decided to suspend the strike and the journalists returned to work on 6 October 2004. Negotiations on the KPPN began on 7 October. ZTM is still not acknowledging the general validity of the existing agreement for all journalists. However, SNS did gain a concession. After categorically refusing to be a representative negotiator on the employers' side, despite the fact that it has compulsory membership, ZTM has acknowledged that it will play this role. Both sides will now continue talks on whether the negotiations will concern the renewal of the existing KPPN (as demanded by SNS) or the elaboration of a completely new KPPN (as demanded by employers).

Commentary

The Slovenian Employers' Association (Zdruzenje delodajalcev Slovenije, ZDS) - the central employers' organisation, of which membership is not compulsory - has not made an appearance on the employers' side during the journalists dispute. Most probably the reason is that ZDS is organised according to the 'standard classification of activities' into 11 sections, mainly representing different sectors of production industry, and is not yet strong enough in the media and press sector to organise a special section for it. Trade unions deny that GZS is a legitimate partner on the employer side, because GZS has compulsory membership. However, in such cases they have no choice but to bargain with GZS if they want to have collective agreements.

An issue regulated in the KPPN, which arguably should be changed, is the procedure for resolving disputes of interest. The economic, political and legal situation has changed considerably since 1991, when this national agreement was concluded. At that time media employers were predominantly companies in 'societal ownership', and the government had a stronger role in protecting such ownership, which is not justified now. Furthermore, because the decision of the arbitration council is final (and binding), workers cannot go on strike in such circumstances. (Stefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development)

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