Civil Service Office abolished
As part of the recent employment reforms in the civil service, a national Civil Service Office was established in Slovakia. The principal task of this office was to introduce integrated human resource management procedures in civil service organisations. After more than four years in operation, however, the Civil Service Office has been abolished. This decision was taken by the Slovakian parliament, which endorsed an amendment of the civil service act, thus annulling the office’s existence. The tasks of the office have since been taken over by government institutions.
In 2002, labour reforms in the public sector led to differing employment regulations for employees in private and public sector organisations. In the public sector, the labour legislation is divided according to two separate provisions: the act on the public service (Act No. 313/2001), which defines the public service and covers services such as education and healthcare, and the act on the civil service (Act No. 312/2001), which regulates the civil service, such as state administration bodies (SK0206102F). The latter also provided for the establishment of the Civil Service Office of the Slovak Republic (Úrad pre štátnu službu Slovenskej republiky).
The civil service act regulates the employment relationship s of approximately 36,000 civil servants who work as trainee, permanent or temporary civil servants. Employees working as trainee civil servants are appointed to permanent positions in the civil service after they successfully pass the civil service examination. Temporary positions in the civil service are given to professional experts, whose temporary appointment (for a maximum of five years) is necessary in order to perform certain civil service tasks in state administrative offices. Civil servants are subject to annual professional performance appraisal.
Role of Civil Service Office
The national Civil Service Office was set up to establish unified procedures for human resource management (HRM) in the civil service and to coordinate these activities in the state administrative bodies. The main tasks of the office were to:
- develop the ethical code of the civil service;
- determine criteria for evaluating civil service performance;
- review procedures for annual performance appraisal;
- establish vocational training processes for civil servants.
In addition, the office was set up to support the selection of job applicants according to the skills and qualifications required for vacant posts in the civil service, and to eliminate vested interests, including the canvassing of politicians, assisting people to secure jobs in the civil service.
At a later stage, the Civil Service Office introduced some amendments to the act on the civil service, which were implemented under Act No. 551/2003 Coll. This act has resulted in, for example, changes in the recruitment procedures for civil servants, the introduction of a qualifying exam, a reduction of redundancy pay, and changes in the pay system (SK0405102F). The Slovak government, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR), along with the Civil Service Office expected that the new legislation would provide for higher employment flexibility and greater efficiency in the public sector as a whole. Several privileges granted to civil servants, which had been publicly criticised, were also removed. At the same time, the abovementioned state bodies hoped that employment in the public sector would become as attractive and interesting an option as employment in the private sector.
However, government representatives in the period 2005–6 voiced much criticism concerning the performance of the Civil Service Office. This led the Ministry of Finance (Ministerstvo financií Slovenskej republiky, MFSR) to propose an amendment to the civil service act, which would effectively dissolve the office. Among the arguments supporting this move were, for example, that the Civil Service Office did not maximise its competencies, avoided its responsibilities in decision making, was unable to respond in a flexible manner to current events in the civil service, and was too costly. According to the Chair of the Civil Service Office, Lubomír Plai, the office enforced many HRM practices which most of the politicians probably did not favour. He added that Slovakia ‘is approaching general elections and the political parties need to motivate their members and promise them jobs in the civil service’.
Since the office has been dissolved, ministers, state secretaries and heads of civil service offices, who are politically nominated to their positions, can now manage the staffing of civil servants more independently. They have the autonomy to dismiss their subordinates without any reasoning, whereas previously, unfairly dismissed employees could appeal to the Civil Service Office. This also means that job nominations in civil service bodies can now be more ‘politically’ motivated than before.
At a time when the national elections are looming, implementing the proposed legislative changes concerning the civil service does not seem to come at an appropriate time. In early March 2006, the Vice-Chair of the Christian Democratic Movement (Krestansko-demokratické hnutie, KDH), Mr Július Brocka, stated that the dissolution of the Civil Service Office represents such a major change in the civil service that it should not be implemented just three months before the national elections. For the most part, members of the ruling coalition of the Slovak Democratic Christian Union (Slovenská demokratická a krestanská únia, SDKÚ) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (Strana madarskej koalície/Magyar koalíció pártja, SMK/MKP) endorsed the amendment of the act in parliament, thus cancelling the office’s existence. Some KDH members of parliament also voted for the amendment, although their party had left the government coalition.
With the approval of the Act No. 231/2006, thus amending the 2001 act on the civil service, the Civil Service Office will cease operations from 1 June 2006. Its employees will be transferred to the Government Office (Úrad vlády Slovenskej republiky), to the MPSVR SR and to other ministries. Originally, the Civil Service Office constituted one of the principal pillars of civil service reform in Slovakia. According to available data, this reform project, which aimed at modernising the Slovakian civil service and included the operation of the office, is subsidised by EU funds.
Note: material for this article has been drawn from the article ‘Poslanci zrušili Úrad pre štátnu službu’ published in the SME newspaper on 16 March 2006, available online at http://sme.sk/.
Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research