Labour Code to be revised
In February 2003, the Slovak social partners and government reached agreement on amendments to the country's Labour Code. A revision of the Code had been sought by employers, and was taken up by the government, while trade unions opposed most of the proposed changes and threatened industrial action. Following a lengthy process of bipartite and tripartite negotiations, a deal was reached and will be forwarded to parliament once the details have been finalised.
In April 2002, a new Labour Code - regulating matters such as the individual employment relationship, pay, working time and collective labour relations - came into force (SK0207102F). In late 2002, however, employers called for amendments to the new Code. The Federation of Employers´ Associations of the Slovak Republic (Asociácia zamestnávatelských zvazov a zdruzení SR, AZZZ SR) and its member organisations argue that the current version of the Labour Code is not flexible enough, given the situation and development of the labour market. At present, they argue, it creates obstacles to employers employing more people and to employees working more and thus improving their income.
The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny SR, MPSVR SR) responded to the employers' demands and drew up approximately 180 proposals for changes to the current Labour Code, which were forwarded to the social partners on 20 December 2002 at a tripartite meeting.
According to the Ministry, the aims of the proposed changes to the Labour Code are to secure better conditions for flexible labour relations, decrease the number of legislative requirements and thus to a greater extent provide the necessary preconditions for autonomous collective bargaining between the social partners. The amendments are focused on the deregulation of working conditions and employment conditions in areas such as employment contracts, working time, overtime work, redundancy compensation and employers' obligations in relation to the dismissal of employees. The amendments also seek to limit some of the competencies of trade unions, for example abolishing their role in inspecting the implementation of labour regulations, including those on health and safety. The changes would also alter the position of works councils and reduce the protection of employee representatives against dismissal.
The Confederation of the Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zvazov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR) considered the government's proposals to be unacceptable because they decrease the protection of employees and reduce some of the unions' competencies. From January 2003, KOZ SR organised a three-week protest against the proposed amendments to the Labour Code in front of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family's building. While these protests were going on, the social partners agreed - on the suggestion of the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family - that the revision of the Labour Code should be on the agenda of a tripartite meeting on 24 January. Based on this agreement, the KOZ SR and its affiliated trade unions ended the protest. Consequently, the social partners and the Ministry resumed negotiations.
However, the Ministry and the social partners did not come to an agreement and, therefore, tripartite consultations were held with the help ofInternational Labour Organisation (ILO) experts on 11-13 February 2003. These consultations were organised on a basis of a tripartite request from the government and social partners in both the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic. The Slovak social partners were interested mainly in the scope of the labour law changes which would be laid down in the adjusted version of the Labour Code, and in the compliance of the proposed amendments with the relevant ILO Conventions. The ILO experts acquainted participants with the legal state of play with regard to collective labour relations and employee participation in Germany, Italy and France, and gave some useful examples. The ILO experts promised to send their views on the proposed amendments to the Labour Code by the end of March 2003.
The government and social partners then continued their meetings and negotiations. After a round of talks, the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Ludovít Kaník, and the chair of the tripartite meeting, Minister of the Economy Robert Nemcsics, stated that the government and employers had agreed with the trade unions on the majority of changes to the Labour Code. The ministers said that only a few trade union demands were still open for further discussion at the tripartite meeting to be held on 28 February 2003. However, two days before this meeting, the KOZ SR union confederation organised a special assembly and approved a declaration of a'state of crisis'. According to the KOZ SR President, Ivan Saktor, this state of crisis was the first stage in preparing a nationwide strike if the unions' fundamental demands were not considered. Given the progress in negotiations and the fact that the government and employers intended to bring a number of compromises to the next tripartite meeting, the MPSVR SR employers' confederation considered the trade union declaration as an unnecessary complication of the situation.
On 28 February, the government representatives and the social partners reached a number of compromises and agreed in principle on changes to the Labour Code. They have still to find a mutual solution concerning a few matters, mainly in relation to employee participation, and when they do so the final draft will be forwarded for approval to parliament. Nevertheless, KOZ SR does not intend to repeal its declaration of a state of crisis until the final version of the Labour Code is adopted by parliament.
In spite of difficult disputes between the social partners and the government, a mutually acceptable solution has been found. Commentators believe that this indicates that the tripartite process has passed an exceptional and important examination successfully, confirming the maturity of the tripartite actors. The chair of the tripartite meeting stated that'if the tripartite members were able to agree on such important topic as the Labour Code, then they would be able to reach an agreement on other important issues too.'