New employment framework for public employees

New legislation on employment conditions in the public sector came into force in Slovakia in April 2002, with separate provisions for the civil service and for the public service. While all employees were formerly covered by the same employment law, the new public sector regulations, along with a new Labour Code for the business sector introduced on the same date, mean that separate rules now apply to public and private sector workers. The new public sector legislation seeks to address the growing differences in employment conditions between the public and private sectors, by improving pay and conditions in the public sector.

On 1 April 2002, new labour legislation was implemented in the Slovak Republic. The introduction of a new Labour Code and separate new labour legislation for the public sector has introduced differing employment regulations for business organisations and public organisations, after more than 35 years when a unified Labour Code applied to all employees and employers equally (SK0206101N). In the public sector, the new employment legislation is divided into separate provisions for the civil service (eg state administration bodies) and for the public service (eg education and healthcare services), which are outlined below.

Employment conditions in the civil service

The new Act on the Civil Service (No. 312/2001 in the Collection of Laws) regulates the employment relationships of approximately 36,000 civil servants. The civil service, for the purposes of the Act, is considered as the performance of state administration tasks or the conduct of state affairs by a civil servant at a 'service office' (Sluzobný úrad). The Act does not govern the employment conditions of members of the armed forces, including the police force and customs officers, which are regulated by specific laws. The Act also does not cover some directly appointed or elected positions, such as members of parliament or of the government.

Basic rules

Under the new legislation, civil service work can take three forms:

  1. the preparatory stage may last a maximum of two years, up until the civil servant in question passes the civil service examination;
  2. after passing the examination, the civil servant enters the permanent civil service;
  3. temporary civil service employment may last for a maximum of five years. It applies to professional specialists whose temporary appointment is necessary in order to perform certain civil service tasks, to political positions and to ambassadors.

The act prohibits any discrimination against individuals seeking to enter the civil service, on grounds such as sex, race, ethnic origin, religion or political beliefs. In addition, every citizen of the Slovak Republic who meets various preconditions - eg has reached the age of 18 years, and does not have a criminal record - is entitled to enter the civil service if they pass a fair selection process.

The civil service employment relationship is established when an employee is appointed to a civil service post. This is on the basis of a written decision which lays down the date of appointment. When this notice of appointment is issued, new civil servants must take an oath of service, in which they promise to be faithful to the Slovak Republic, its Constitution and laws. At this stage, they also receive written notification of: the period of vocational experience and credited experience; their salary; their weekly working time; and the length of paid holidays. Appointments are made by the head of the relevant service office. Appointment to a civil service post may occur only if such a post is vacant under the rules on staffing levels. If staffing levels fall due to changes in these rules, the employment of the civil servants affected is not terminated, but they are taken out of active service for up to 18 months.

Civil servants are obliged, in the course of their civil service employment relationship, to declare their assets, and they may not be entrepreneurs or perform any other profit-making activities.

Any modification to the civil service employment relationship must be made by the head of the relevant service office, by means of a written decision. A service office may terminate a civil service employment relationship if a civil servant ceases to meet the requirements necessary for the performance of civil service work.

Civil servants’ work performance is governed by their superior, and they are subject to annual professional evaluations. Civil servants are entitled to paid time off when studying for and taking the exams to move from temporary to permanent status.

The Act lays down regulations on both: the rights of civil servants - such as entitlements to working conditions which allow for the proper performance of their tasks, and to measures to develop their skills and qualifications; and their obligations - such as duties to fulfil their tasks in a timely and proper manner, behave correctly and not abuse their position. In the event of a failure to meet these obligations, disciplinary action can be taken. In the event of civil servants causing damage, they are obliged to compensate the amount of such damage to the relevant service office.

A new Civil Service Office of the Slovak Republic (Úrad pre státnu sluzbu Slovenskej republiky), based in Bratislava, coordinates civil service employment in a uniform manner.

The new Labour Code (Act No. 311/2001) (SK0207102F), which covers essentially private sector employment, relates to the employment relations of civil servants only in specific and expressly designated areas. Therefore, the Act on the Civil Service regulates almost all specific employment conditions for civil servants. The main provisions are as follows.

Working time

The weekly working time of civil servants is a maximum of 40 hours, with maxima of 38.75 hours for work in two-shift operations and 37.5 hours for work in continuous operations. Special conditions are laid down for work performed on public holidays and overtime work. Civil servants are entitled to four weeks' paid holiday per year. Moreover, those civil servants, who, by the end of a calendar year, have worked for more than 15 years in public employment or other employment, are entitled to five weeks' holiday.

General conditions

Service offices are obliged to create the necessary conditions for the proper, safe, and 'economic' performance of their work by civil servants. Civil servants are entitled to one hot meal each working day, to which the service office contributes 65% of the price. During pregnancy and in the nine months after the birth, female civil servants are entitled to increased protection at work and specific labour conditions.

Remuneration

When civil servants are appointed, the service office is obliged to provide them with a written notification, including a statement of the structure of their salary. The salary structure of civil servants is composed of both 'claimable' components (ie those to which they are entitled) - such as the basic 'tariff' salary based on the relevant pay scale, and various bonuses - and 'non-claimable' components - such as personal bonuses.

Based on the position to which they are appointed and the function to which they are assigned, civil servants receive a 'tariff' salary based on the relevant 'salary class' (a nine-class scale is used), which is included in the catalogue of civil service activities, issued by means of government decrees. The salary class for each post is specified according to the most demanding activity in its job description. Within the salary class, the 'salary category' of civil servants is determined according to the length of their practical experience, on the basis of a 12-category scale. The monthly tariff salary is thus determined according to the specified salary category and class.

The pay of senior civil servants serving in political functions and heads of service offices is based on function and is usually determined by the person who appointed them.

Other employment conditions

The fact that civil servants are covered by a stricter regime than other employees in the performance of their duties is compensated for by certain advantages. Civil servants are covered by health and sickness insurance, pensions and unemployment insurance, but with differences. With regard to sickness insurance, as well as the regular benefits, civil servants also receive additional benefits (for up to 30 days a year) and are entitled to benefits when sick members of their families are being treated. Permanent civil servants, unlike other employees, do not have to pay contributions to unemployment insurance, given the lifelong character of civil service employment. Moreover, civil servants are entitled to additional salary payments in each calendar year (the so-called 13th- and 14th-month salary), to a gratuity upon retiring, and to a bonus to their pension.

The Act on the Civil Service also regulates other material benefits that are provided to heads of service offices and senior civil servants serving in political positions (eg the use of an official car and mobile telephone).

Employment conditions in the public service

Public service work is defined by the new Act on the Public Service (No. 313/2001) as the performance of work by employees in 'matters of public interest' and activities related to regional self-administration. The scope of the Act is thus extensive, covering more than 400,000 employees - some 19% of all employees in Slovakia. The Act governs the employment relations of public service employees with their employers. These employers are state administration bodies (except those falling within the civil service) and other organisations relying on the state budget or contributions, the municipalities, state funding bodies, schools and educational institutions (except private schools), other employers stipulated by specific regulations, and a number of stipulated public institutions: the Social Insurance Agency (Sociálna poistovna); the National Labour Office (Národný úrad práce); the General Health Insurance Company (Vseobecná zdravotná poistovna); and the Common Health Insurance Company (Spolocná zdravotná poistovna).

The Act on the Public Service regulates the particular employment conditions which apply to the public service. The most important points are as follows.

Preconditions

In order to become a public service employee, a person must not have a criminal record, must have full legal capacity, and must meet requirements in terms of qualifications and health. Public service employees are either appointed or elected to their position. The Act lays down the contents of the employment contract, which must include a detailed description of the employee's work activities and place of work. At the time of signing the employment contract, each employee is obliged (in similar way to civil servants) to take an oath of service. For each salary class within the public service, there are specific rules relating to the qualifications required, the degree of complexity and responsibility involved, and the mental and physical demands.

Senior positions

Public service employees may be assigned to senior positions which involve acting as the statutory representative of the organisation in which they are employed only on the basis of a selection process. During this selection process, the capabilities and professional knowledge of applicants are examined in relation to the requirements of the position. The selection process is organised by a selection committee appointed by the relevant public service employer.

Specific obligations of employees

Public service employees are obliged to: act and take decisions impartially: maintain secrecy on matters of which they have become aware during the performance of public service; not accept gifts or other advantages in relation to the performance of public service; and refrain from any actions which could lead to a conflict of public and personal interests. Senior employees who act as the statutory representative of their employer cannot conduct a business or perform other profit-making activities, or be members of the managing, controlling or supervisory bodies of public organisations. Moreover such employees are obliged to declare their property interests.

Remuneration

In a similar way to civil servants, public service employees’ pay is composed of 'claimable' components (ie those to which they are entitled) - such as the basic 'tariff' salary and bonuses for circumstances such as night work or acting or deputising as a manager - and 'non-claimable' components, which may or may not be provided by the employer - such as personal bonuses and performance bonuses.

The tariff salary of public employees is determined (as in the civil service) according to their salary class and category. However, the tariff salary is based on a 14-level scale of salary classes and according to different tariffs for different types of public services (such as education and healthcare). Employees are placed in a salary class according to the most demanding activity they perform and their qualifications, as laid down in relevant catalogues of working activities issued by means of government decrees. Similar to the civil service, employers place public service employees in the relevant salary category (12 levels in total), according to the length of their experience. Employees performing some specific duties (such as employees with a university education who perform demanding scientific and research activities in EU projects) can receive a personal salary instead of a tariff salary.

As in the civil service, senior public service employees may receive bonuses for acting or deputising as a manager. A personal bonus (of up to 70% of their tariff salary) may be awarded to employees to acknowledge extraordinary personal capabilities and results achieved. Moreover, employers may award employees special differential payments (eg for an opera soloist), additional salary payments (eg 13th- and 14th-month salary payments), or a discharge benefit when employment is terminated once the employee has attained entitlement to an old-age pension. In precisely defined circumstances, employees can also be given other bonuses, such as for: work in a working environment detrimental to health; night work; work on Saturdays and Sundays; work on public holidays; and overtime work.

Collective bargaining and employee representation

Collective bargaining over employment conditions is possible in both the civil service and public service, though there are some distinctions.

Civil service

In the civil service, collective bargaining is possible only over the sector's collective agreement, which requires parliamentary approval in order to come into force. The civil service collective agreement is negotiated by representatives of the relevant sectoral trade union organisations - such as the Slovak Trade Union Association of Public Administration (Slovenský odborový zväz verejnej správy, SLOVES) - and by representatives specified by the government on behalf of the state. The social partners are obliged to negotiate and cooperate in such a way that the collective agreement is concluded at the latest by the end of May each year. The content of collective bargaining is defined very closely and the agreements can cover only the following issues :

  • the salary tariff scale;
  • the reduction of weekly working hours; and
  • the amount paid into the social fund (such statutory funds exist in both the public and business sector and are financed by a specified proportion of employers' paybill).

In bargaining over increases in the salary tariff scale, the presumed development of average monthly wages in the business sector and the scope afforded by the state budget for the relevant year are taken into account. Government regulations then lay down the increased salary tariff scales, as well as their term of application.

Unlike in the past, under the new law collective agreements may no longer be concluded at the level of individual service offices. However, service offices (such as ministries and other state bodies) are obliged to negotiate in advance with the relevant trade union body over proposals and decisions related to matters such as employment in the civil service (recruitment, changes and termination), professional regulations, and measures related to the conditions of civil service performance and affecting a large number of employees. Trade unions are also entitled to monitor the conditions of civil service performance. Furthermore, unions and service offices jointly decide about how the social fund is to be used. In those workplaces where there is no trade union organisation, state employees are represented by an elected 'personnel council' or a 'shop steward'.

Public service

In the public service sector, collective agreements may be concluded both at sector level and in individual service offices. The sectoral collective agreement may be concluded on behalf of the employees by representatives of the relevant sectoral trade union organisations - such as the Trade Union Association of Employees in Education and Science, (Odborový zväz pracovníkov skolstva a vedy) - and/or by representatives of the relevant central trade union bodies. On behalf of the employers, the collective agreement is concluded by representatives authorised by the government from among ministries, regions and municipalities, schools and other relevant organisations and institutions (see above). A wider spectrum of issues can be regulated by the public service sectoral collective agreement than by the civil service agreement. Standards exceeding those laid down by law can be agreed in areas such as:

  • reduction of working time;
  • extension of the period of paid holiday (beyond the level guaranteed by the law);
  • increases in pay tariff scales;
  • prolongation of the period of notice of termination of employment;
  • the amount of the employer’s contribution to supplementary pension insurance; and
  • the amount of the contribution to the social fund.

As mentioned above, the government includes the employment conditions specified in the sectoral collective agreements for the civil and public services (mainly the pay increase provisions) in the draft state budget law for the relevant year. The sectoral collective agreements enter into force at the same time as the state budget law takes effect.

Collective agreements may also be concluded at the level of individual public service organisations, in which it is possible to negotiate better employment conditions than those laid down in the sectoral collective agreement. These collective agreements may regulate remuneration matters and other aspects of the employment relationships, but only to the extent allowed by the Act on the Public Service and the sectoral collective agreement.

Employee representation is, as in the civil service, through trade unions or, in their absence, elected personnel councils or shop stewards - however their the competences are wider than in the civil service.

Dispute-resolution procedures

The rules on the resolution of disputes over the conclusion of collective agreements in the civil and public service differ slightly from those in the business sector.

In the case of bargaining difficulties in the civil service, the bargaining parties may, by mutual agreement, specify a mediator. If a collective agreement cannot be reached through the assistance of the mediator, the parties may, by mutual agreement, set up a reconciliation committee to decide the issue. This committee is composed of six members, three proposed by the government and three by the trade unions. In the event that a collective agreement is not concluded after mediation and the bargaining parties do not use the reconciliation committee, a strike may be called as a last resort (pursuant to Act No. 2/1991 on Collective Bargaining, as amended). The right to strike is restricted for those civil servants who: are in managerial positions; perform task essential for the protection of life and health; or would, by participating in a strike, endanger the life or health of the population.

A similar procedure for resolving disputes applies in the public service.

Commentary

The introduction of the new laws on employment in the civil and public services was accompanied by extensive discussions between government representatives and public sector employees and trade unions, and the legislation has become a topical issue for the political parties. This was demonstrated by the fact that the laws were amended many times before they actually entered into force, while proposals for further modifications are currently being prepared by members of parliament in the National Council of the Slovak Republic (Národná rada Slovenskej republiky, NR SR).

According to the SLOVES civil servants' trade union, the law has not established a real certainty of lifelong employment for civil servants. In fact, it has only prolonged the period of notice of termination of employment to 18 months, providing that 70% of their salary will be paid to employees during the first 12 months of this period, and 50% during the remaining six months. The law implements a transitional two-year period, during which current employees will have to undertake obligatory education and exams, by means of which they will qualify for the permanent civil service. Then, another two-year transitional period follows, during which not even a restricted certainty of lifelong employment will apply and there will be a possibility that employees could be dismissed on organisational grounds. After such a dismissal, there is a risk that the employees will not be entitled to unemployment benefit, since permanent civil servants do not pay any contributions to the unemployment insurance fund.

The trade unions have also lost some of their previous rights, most importantly no longer being able to conclude collective agreements in the civil service at the level of individual service offices. According to the unions, the law also creates an unequal position for state employees, since some civil servants are still governed by other specific laws (Act No. 73/1998 on the State Service of Members of the Police Force, the Slovak Intelligence Service, the Corps of Prison Wardens and Judiciary Guards of the Slovak Republic and the Railway Police, and Act No. 200/1998 on the Civil Service of Customs Officers). Employees in these services enter the civil service automatically, without passing special exams. Furthermore, in these organisations, trade unions may still conclude collective agreements as before and have the right to participate in commissions and advisory bodies. Moreover, the approval of the relevant trade union is necessary for the termination of the employment of a union official employed in the civil service.

Problems with the application of the Act on the Civil Service have also caused by the late issuing of the relevant implementing rules. Furthermore, the fact that the Civil Service Office of the Slovak Republic started its activities as late as March 2002, only one month prior to the implementation of the Act on the Civil Service, has contributed to these problems.

There are also certain problems with the application of the Act on the Public Service. Currently, the main problem is connected with the lack of the financial means necessary for the implementation of the better remuneration of public employees pursuant to the Act, resulting in lower than expected increases in salaries (in some cases, there has even been even no salary increase). The situation is illustrated by a public announcement sent by the employees of the faculty of philosophy at the Comenius University to the government at the beginning of June 2002, claiming that as many as 72% of these employees received the same salary in April 2002 (after the new law came into force) as in March 2002. Only those employees who has been transferred to higher salary classes and/or scales had received a pay increase. The pay situation is currently no better in the civil service.

Problems also seem to be arising from the complexity and ambiguity of some provisions of the Act on the Public Service - for example, employees of the same organisation may be remunerated according to different salary tariff scales (as in schools). For the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the main problem, as well as the lack of the financial means, seems to be the fact the professional training of employees in the public service has not so far been properly arranged.

Despite certain deficiencies of an economic and/or organisational character, the implementation of the new Acts on the civil and public service means progress in the improvement of the employment conditions in the public sector. There are justified expectations that the new labour legislation for the public sector will not only contribute to enhancing the attractiveness of working in the public sector and stabilising the position of civil and public servants, but also make the operation of the civil and public service more apolitical. The fact that the Act on the Public Service also regulates the employment conditions of employees in the newly transformed regional self-administration bodies can also be considered an advance. (Margita Barosová and Mariana Munková, RILSAF Bratislava)

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