The organisation of the social partners

This feature examines the current organisation of the social partners in Slovakia, looking at the development of trade unions and employers' organisations from the fall of the communist regime in 1989 until 2002, and outlining the key features of the main organisations, as well as the changing role of the state. Overall, the organisational structures of both trade unions and employers seem to be relatively well equipped to engage in collective bargaining and in tripartite social dialogue with the government. Nevertheless, some further development is needed.

The social partners in Slovakia established new organisational structures, which are still largely in place, soon after the fall of the former communist regime in November 1989. The trade unions reacted quickly to the changed political s ituation in such a way that they actively supported the political changes in the country and, at the same time, restructured the organisational structures built up under the old regime. Employers had to build their organisational structures from scratch because, under the previous system, the state was the only employer. Below, we examine the development of both trade unions and employers' organisations since 1989, and also at the changing role of the state.

Trade unions

The fall of the communist political system in Czechoslovakia in 1989 allowed for the close link between trade unions and the previous leading political power, the Communist Party, to be broken. The first free trade union elections organised in 1990 brought new union officials to power and supported the process of fundamental change in society. After the dissolution of the previous Revolutionary Trade Union Movement (Revolucné odborové hnutie, ROH) in March 1990, a new trade union confederation was established in Czechoslovakia. The establishment of the new confederation was based on full acceptance of International Labour Organisation (ILO) principles. However, some of the previous union officials remained in place and continued their activities in newly formed unions.

The formation of new trade union structures was accomplished in the framework of the then federal state of Czechoslovakia, and in 1990 the trade unions constituted two relatively independent confederations for the two parts of the country: the Trade Union Confederation of the Czech Lands and Moravia (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Ciech a Moravy) and the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR). These two bodies, the largest union organisations in both parts of the country, were associated on the federal level under the Czech and Slovak Trade Union Confederation. The creation of this confederal structure enabled the structures of the Czech and Slovakian confederations to remain essentially unchanged after the splitting of Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993 into two autonomous states, the Slovak and the Czech Republics.

KOZ SR became the largest trade union organisation in Slovakia, bringing together almost all sector and branch trade unions. However, apart from the KOZ SR, there are some other trade union associations in the Slovak Republic. The largest is thought to be the Metallurgy Workers' Trade Union (Odborový zväz Metalurg). Others include the Independent Christian Trade Union of Slovakia (Nezávislé krestanské odbory Slovenska) and the Confederation of Art and Cultural Workers (Konfederácia pracovníkov umenia a kultúry, KUK), which have quite small memberships.

Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic

According to its statutes, KOZ SR is a voluntary association of independent trade unions, which have come together with the purpose of defending the rights and justified interests of their members. The right of citizens to organise in trade union is one of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, as well as by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which became an essential part of Constitutional Act No. 23/1991. Further significant documents concerning the assertion of trade union rights which have been ratified by the Slovak Republic are ILO Conventions No. 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise and No. 98 on the right to organise and collective bargaining.

KOZ SR's statutes are based on the confederation principle, which secures freedom in their activities for individual member trade unions. That means that member unions are not obliged to accept KOZ SR decisions, and if they wish they may leave the confederation. Relations between the KOZ SR and member unions are conducted predominantly through formal structures such as the KOZ SR congress, presidency and council of the presidents, or through KOZ SR's programme, decrees, conference resolutions etc.

Currently the KOZ SR represents about 90% of all trade union members in the country. During the past decade, no substantial changes have occurred in trade unions structure, but there has been a decline in union membership, particularly in the private sector. For example, while union membership in 1990 stood at almost 2.4 million, it dropped to 1.8 million in 1993 and is still declining. In 2001, total union membership was about 655,000 employees, a decrease of 47,000 compared with 2000. Currently, around 35% of employees are estimated to be members of trade unions affiliated to KOZ SR. Union membership is relatively higher in public sector organisations than in the business sector.

Slovak trade unions are mostly organised on the basis of sectors and/or industrial branches, rather than by professions and occupations. Nevertheless, the Trade Union Associations of Professional Drivers, Doctors and Teachers are exceptions.

KOZ SR's activities are funded by its sectoral and/or industrial branch trade union associations, but KOZ SR itself does not provide services directly to the membership base. Sectoral and branch trade unions, as well as local trade unions in enterprises and organisations, provide these services. These services include free legal advice and assistance, aid for retraining, use of trade union recreation facilities, and provision of information and education for union officials.

The most significant role of KOZ SR is the coordination of the activities of sectoral and/or branch trade unions as regards negotiations with the government and employers' representatives in the top-level tripartite social dialogue. KOZ SR also represents its member trade unions in international organisations, such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). KOZ SR also represents its members at ILO Conferences. In addition, KOZ SR in cooperation with the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) represents its members to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

As mentioned above, the trade union organisations affiliated to KOZ SR are organised on the basis of economic sectors or industrial branches, and there are currently 37 member unions in the industry and service sectors. In general, sectoral or branch trade unions have one or two members of staff, but in the largest unions this number can reach 25. KOZ SR's 10 largest sector and/or branch trade unions represent more than 70% of total union membership. Table 1 below lists the largest trade unions, according to the available membership statistics.

Table 1. The main KOZ SR member trade unions
Trade union Approx. membership
Industry .
Metalworkers' Union (Odborový zväz KOVO) 90,000
Trade Union Association of Railway Workers 45,000
Trade Union of the Wood Processing Industry 43,000
Trade Union of Chemistry SR (Odborový zväz Chémia SR) 28,000
Trade Union of Construction Workers 26,000
Slovak Trade Union of Textile, Clothing and Leather Industries 26,000
Public sector .
Trade Union of Employees in Education and Science 83,000
Slovak Trade Union of Health and Welfare Workers 72,000
Slovak Trade Union of Public Administration 30,000

According to its statutes, KOZ SR also includes regional trade union organisations. These regional organisations are part of the KOZ SR structures, but are not full legal members. Regional organisations have their own statutes, based on model statutes issued by KOZ SR, which methodically regulates their activities. There are KOZ regional councils (Krajská rada KOZ) in each of the eight territorial units of Slovakia. Their role is to allow the regional union organisations to participate in the regional social dialogue dealing with major issues in particular regions. Every relevant KOZ SR member trade union which operates at regional level has a right to delegate one representative to the regional councils. The activities of the delegates are coordinated by the trade union organisation which nominated them.

Employers' organisations

Historically, completely different development factors influenced the formation of employers' structures in Slovakia than those affecting trade unions. The process of forming employers' representation bodies started in 1991, at a time when trade union structures were already built up (mostly by transformation of the former trade union organisations of the previous regime). This delay was caused by the fact that in the past the main employer was the state. Apart from the state enterprises and organisations, the only significant employers were cooperatives, which had associations of members of production and consumer cooperatives across the country.

The process of forming structures representing employers' interests was slower than that of forming trade unions because privatisation was carried out in several stages, and this took a long time (indeed, it has not yet been completely finished). Employers' organisations were established as the so-called 'minor privatisation' process (concerning mostly retail and services) and especially the 'major privatisation' process (concerning industrial companies) developed.

Employers' associations are now stabilised and are in a process of continuous development. They are in a position to bargain collectively with trade unions at sector and/or branch level.

Federation of Employers' Associations of the Slovak Republic

Most employers' organisations are affiliated to the Federation of Employers' Associations of the Slovak Republic (Asociácia zamestnávatelských zväzov a zdruzení Slovenskej republiky, AZZZ SR). AZZZ SR brings together 37 employers' associations from the business, cooperative and public sectors, operating in industry, transport, telecommunications, cooperative farms, small and medium-sized enterprises, banks and insurance companies, education, food etc. Moreover, it also has five associate members.

The AZZZ SR is the leading representative of employers and the social partner for the purposes of relations with government and trade unions. It represents specific employers' interests and has the status of a legal entity. It was established in 1991 with the purpose of creating the conditions for the dynamic development of entrepreneurship in Slovakia, as well as protecting and promoting the common business and commercial interests of its members. Two representative bodies of employers were initially established in 1991 - AZZZ SR and the Federation of Industry (Zväz priemyslu). The latter was dissolved in 1995 and AZZZ SR became the sole central representative body for employers.

Membership of AZZZ SR is voluntary and open to entities which: bring together employers; have a representative character; have national competences; and, as a rule, are responsible for concluding collective agreements. AZZZ SR plays a principal role in coordinating the activities of sector and/or branch employers' associations as regards the negotiation process with the government and KOZ SR in the framework of the national tripartite Council for Economic and Social Concertation (Rada hospodárskej a sociálnej dohody, RHSD). AZZZ SR also represents its members in several international organisations, such as the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), and at ILO Conferences.

Among the largest and most influential employers' organisations affiliated to AZZZ SR is the Slovak Council of Industrial Associations (Slovenská rada priemyselných zväzov), which brings together a number of employers' associations in industry. Other employers' organisations in the business sector are grouped in the following AZZZ SR sections: cooperatives; small and medium-sized enterprises; and finance and trade. The section for municipalities, health services and education is important because of the type of services provided and the large number of people employed in its member employers' organisations, eg for school and hospitals.

About 50% of the nearly 63,000 companies active in Slovakia are members of AZZZ SR. Furthermore, approximately 5,000 self-employed people are represented by the Association of Self-Employers, which is a member of AZZZ SR. The individual employers' associations represent varying numbers of member organisations, with varying numbers of employees. According to the available information, the most important employers' associations are listed in table 2 below.

Table 2. Largest employers' associations affiliated to AZZZ SR
Association No. of member companies/organisations No. of workers employed by members
Association of Transport, Post and Telecommunications 40 100,000
Association of Metallurgy, Mining and Geology 39 Over 40,000
Association of Construction Employers of Slovakia. 250 Over 60% of employees in construction and public works
Association of Farms and Commercial Organisations 850 35,000
Association of the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry 44 Over 20,000
Association of the Textile and Clothing Industry - Around 73% of all employees in textiles and clothing sectors
Association of Employers in Energy 21 20,000
Association of Production Cooperatives 143 Over 12,000
Association of Machinery Industry Almost all in sector -

The Association of Waterworks Employers and the Association of Secondary Schools Employers are not AZZZ SR members, though they cooperate with AZZZ SR.

AZZZ SR has also established regional structures in order to decentralise its activities. These structures reflect the regional, territorial and administration divisions of Slovakia. AZZZ SR has established three regional offices.

Changing role of the state

The state, in its capacity as the 'third social partner', has also undergone a remarkable transformation over the past decade or so. The state was previously the largest employer, but its role in this area is now substantially reduced. As a result of privatisation and the development of a market economy, the role of the state in the economy has been redefined. The new role of the state involves less direct intervention by state authorities as regards the activities of individual branches, sectors, enterprises and undertakings, with influence over the economy exercised rather by the indirect tools of tax and fiscal policies. The social partners, represented by KOZ SR and AZZZ SR, are independent of the state and can establish independent legal entities. Their boards are elected in line with their own internal rules, without state interference.

Currently, the main role of the state in industrial relations is to set the legal framework for the labour market and social policy, including the rules for collective bargaining. In the field of social dialogue, the state takes part in the tripartite negotiations with the representatives of employers (AZZZ SR) and of employees (KOZ SR) in the framework of the Council for Economic and Social Concertation, Nevertheless, the state is still a significant employer in the public sector, which in addition to the civil service at central and regional level includes areas of public services such as healthcare and the predominantly state educational system. Therefore, the state sometimes also takes part in collective bargaining at sector level in the public sector.


Although the trade unions and employers established their new organisational structures more than 10 years ago, no substantive changes have occurred in them since. Almost all trade unions are still members of KOZ SR and, similarly, employers are members of AZZZ SR.

The trade unions are represented by KOZ SR in tripartite negotiations with the state and employers' representatives. Recently, there have been a very few indications that some member trade unions might want to act outside KOZ SR. An example is Slovakia's largest trade union, the Metalworkers' Union (KOVO), which has recently organised frequent protest actions over mass redundancies and the payment of employees' wages in companies which are in a bad financial situation and/or bankrupt. At the end of May 2002, following such an action, a KOVO representative declared that the union would consider its further membership of KOZ SR if the latter did not support KOVO's appeal for wider strike action over a mass redundancy at an engineering company. However, despite sporadic pressures for certain changes, the largest and the most influential trade union confederation, KOZ SR, has not been split up yet.

As KOZ SR brings together the vast majority of trade unions in Slovakia, it obviously has a stronger position when negotiating with the government and employers than several smaller trade union centres would have. This is probably still quite a strong argument for keeping the current single main trade union centre. It can be said that the unions have built representative structures which are well equipped for both sector and company collective bargaining, and for tripartite negotiations too. The unions have also taken certain steps towards establishing representative structures at regional level. However, employers have not established their structures sufficiently in the regions.

The employers' bodies belonging to AZZZ SR often argue that, in comparison with the trade unions, their organisational structures are rather less well-established, mainly in terms of potential and capacity-building. The most significant reason, they state, is that employers focus on maintaining their competitiveness and thus show less willingness to invest more resources in the development of their representative organisational structures. For comparative purposes, however, it could be pointed out that, according to the available information, KOZ SR employs 22 paid officials in its central organisation, while AZZZ SR has approximately the same number of paid employees at its headquarters.

Another area in which employers feel that they lack professional capacity is collective bargaining at sector level with trade union representatives. According to the available information, it is not rare in bargaining for there to be on one side of the negotiating table only one negotiator on behalf of the employers (often a director of one of the important companies in the sector or branch) and on the other side of the table a five- or six-member negotiating team on behalf of the trade unions. Whether such a situation is caused by a lack of bargaining capacity on the side of the employers, or whether it is a demonstration of greater delegation of authority and bargaining force on the employers' side, might be a matter for further discussion.

Although trade unions and employers have constructed quite well developed organisational structures, the process of their completion is still in progress. As well as some of the problems mentioned above, this process is also influenced by other issues. One of these is undoubtedly the need to build up the necessary professional potential and capacity to allow representatives of Slovak trade unions and employers to participate jointly in the partnership structures involving employers' organisations and trade unions in the framework of the European Union.

Another area in which trade unions, but mainly employers, have to complete the process of building their structures is regional activity. An important impetus towards the completion of effective social partner organisational structures in the regions is the implementation of the National Plan on Regional Development (Národný plán regionálneho rozvoja Slovenskej republiky), which was adopted by the government in 2001. The National Plan presumes that its implementation in the regions will be carried out on the basis of an intensive social dialogue, in which representatives of both the employers and the trade unions in the relevant regions will participate. This process has already begun, but has been slower than desired. Effective social dialogue between the representatives of employers and trade unions would help in processing good regional development projects, that could be financed also from the funds of the European Union. (Ludovít Czíria, RILSAF)

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