National Labour Inspectorate assesses activities

In autumn 2003, the Slovak National Labour Inspectorate published an evaluation of its activities in 2002. During the year, there was no significant improvement in occupational health and safety at enterprises overall, although the number of accidents at work did fall. Inspections also brought to light particular violations of employment standards in regions with high unemployment. The Inspectorate is seeking to become more efficient, in line with EU standards.

In autumn 2003, the National Labour Inspectorate (Národný inspektorát práce, NIP) issued an evaluation of its activities in 2002. The NIP was set up under Act 95 of 2000. Its main task is to ensure protection of employees in the workplace and the implementation of labour law. In 2002, the Inspectorate employed 414 persons, of whom 163 were female; 228 were labour inspectors (31 of them women) and almost all were university educated. NIP headquarters are located in Bratislava, with regional offices in Slovakia's eight regional capitals. They are mainly responsible for inspection activities. The following bodies are recipients of the information obtained by inspection:

  • the government;
  • the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR);
  • the Institute for Occupational Safety Research and Education (Výskumný a vzdelávací ústav bezpecnosti práce, VVÚBP);
  • other state administrative bodies, such as the Office of Standards, Metrology and Testing (Úrad pre normalizáciu, metrológiu a skúsobníctvo Slovenskej republiky UNMS SR);
  • the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications (Ministerstvo dopravy, post a telekomunikácií Slovenskej republiky, MDPT SR);
  • the Ministry of the Environment (Ministerstvo zivotného prostredia Slovenskej republiky, MZP SR);
  • the International Labour Organisation (ILO);
  • employers and employees who benefit from consultation services, and the social partners - ie the Federation of Employers' Associations of the Slovak Republic (Asociácia zamestnávatelských zvazov a zdruzení Slovenskej republiky, AZZZ SR), and the the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zvazov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR);
  • applicants who require certificates and licences, specialists elaborating technical standards and accredited educational organizations which provide training, education and advice; and
  • citizens submitting complaints, 'tip offs' and suggestions, and the media (statistics on occupational injuries, investigation of particular occurrences, illegal labour etc)

Tasks of the National Labour Inspectorate

In 2002, the inspection activities of the NIP focused on implementation of:

  • legal provisions and other rules valid in the area of occupational health and safety and the safety of technical devices and equipment, including regulations stipulating working conditions;
  • labour regulations stipulating the formation, modification and termination of employment relations, working conditions, including those for women, adolescents and employees with a reduced working capacity;
  • wage regulations; and
  • obligations arising from collective agreements.

Apart from inspection, the NIP is in charge of the labour protection information system (SK0208101N). It also organises education and training for the employees of regional inspection offices and is involved in the preparation of 'concepts' and other important materials in the area of labour protection. Another important NIP mission is giving advice to employers, employees and others in the area of labour protection. According to other acts (eg the Product Technical Standards and Conformity Act 1999 [No. 264], as amended) the NIP and inspection offices are obliged to supervise the introduction of products to the market and to check whether product quality and descriptions conform with the necessary requirements. The inspection offices are obliged to perform similar tasks in accordance with the Construction Products Act 1998 (No. 90), as amended.

At present, the labour inspection bodies are gearing up for new tasks in the prevention of industrial accidents, consolidation of methodological procedures and the vocational training of labour inspectors. One such task is the enforcement of equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace.

The Slovak government is committed to occupational health and safety, and generally the protection of employees, society and the environment in this respect. One significant step taken to improve systematically occupational health and safety has been the elaboration of the State Policy Programme on Occupational Health and Safety at Work, adopted by the government in 2002. This Programme established clear and comprehensive goals for the next 10-15 years and assumes the active participation of social partner representatives in programme implementation. The government (on the basis of Resolution No. 838/2002) has tasked the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family with coordinating the activities of all state administrative partners and other organisations under the National Programme on occupational health and safety policy implementation. These measures were elaborated on the basis of NIP proposals; their practical implementation will, at all levels, require additional competencies and methodological and organisational support for all supervisory bodies active in occupational health and safety.

Activities of labour inspection offices

According to the Report on the labour inspection and protection activities of state administrative bodies in 2002, much (almost 42%) of the work of the labour inspection offices in 2002 was devoted to monitoring occupational health and safety at the workplace. Almost 26% of this work consisted of dealing with citizens' and organizations' complaints, tip offs and suggestions. They also dealt with permits for using premises for particular purposes, giving advice and investigating particular cases in the area of occupational health and safety. The inspection offices carried out little training in occupational health and safety (less than 1% of all activities).

The activities of the labour inspectorate were concentrated mainly on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are the most problematic in terms of labour relations and occupational health and safety issues. There were labour inspections at around 9,900 enterprises in 2002, covering 764,658 employees or 38% of those employed in the Slovak Republic. The majority of these enterprises were either small (10 to 49 employees) or very small (one to nine employees) companies. Field activities (monitoring of implementation, building permits, complaints, tip offs, suggestions and investigation of competence to perform given tasks/jobs) constitute 90% of labour inspectors' activities. An increase in the number of 'spot inspections' from 202 in 2001 to 1,457 in 2002 represented additional national tasks for inspectors instigated by the Minister.

Labour relations were also subject to inspection, on the basis of complaints and tip offs, whose number increased significantly in 2002 in comparison with 2001. Most of the inspectors' time was spent at industrial companies (43,491 hours), followed by the commercial sector (33,079 hours) and construction 17,026 hours).

Inspection results

In 2002, 47,419 violations were identified in the following areas:

  • working conditions and management of occupational health and safety at company level - 9,639 cases;
  • health protection and working environment - 473 cases;
  • employment relations, wage regulations and illegal work - 7,443 cases;
  • implementation of collective agreements - 62 cases;
  • buildings - 6,587 cases;
  • condition of devices and equipment. including special technical devices and equipment - 13,286 cases;
  • market supervision of selected products;
  • building permits;
  • complaints, tip offs and suggestions.

There were 5% fewer violations detected in 2002 than in 2001. However, violations increased in: industrial production (up 30%); wholesale, retail, and vehicle repairs (20%); agriculture, hunting and forestry (11%); and construction (9%).

Accidents at work

According to official statistics from the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic (Statistický úrad Slovenskej republiky, ŠÚ SR, in 2002 most work-accident indicators fell in Slovakia, in both absolute and relative terms.

The long-term trend seems to be that the number of accidents at work is falling: in relative terms, the number of accidents at work per 100 employees in 2002 was the lowest since 1969, with an average of just under one accident (0.96) per 100 employees. However, there has been a per capita increase in the number of days off work due to accident, as well as the number of accidents causing death. In 2001, the average duration of work incapacity due to accidents was 40.02 days per accident; in 2002 it was 41.16 days. In 2002, there were 87 deaths caused by accidents at work, 13 fewer than in 2001. Some 75% of all accidents at work were accounted for by four sectors - see the table below.

The four most work accident-prone sectors, 2002
Sector Number of accidents % of all accidents
Industrial production 7,240 37.2
Public administration, defence and compulsory social security 3,518 18.1
Agriculture, hunting and forestry 2,504 12.9
Construction 1,254 6.5

Source: Annual Report of the National Labour Inspectorate 2002.

International cooperation

International contacts and working visits were organised in 2002 in the form of participation in specialised seminars, study visits, international forums and regular meetings of international organisations and institutions, as well as within the framework of exchange visits between partners. In 2002, NIP staff took part in the 90th ILO Conference at which a new Protocol to the 1981 ILO Convention No. 155 on occupational health and safety was adopted. They also took part in meetings of the EU Senior Labour Inspectors Committee and a meeting of the Central and Eastern European Office for Safety and Health (CEEOSH) secretariat, which dealt with inspection issues, the effectiveness of inspectors' work and current trends. A study visit on assessing the economic impact of legal changes was organized under the Dutch MATRA programme. Inspectors also participated in the ILO's 16th World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health at Work, in Austria, dealing with innovations in prevention, methods and tools of prevention, institutional and political aspects of prevention, and prevention in SMEs. The Slovak inspectors presented a special contribution entitled 'identification of potential hazards and risk assessment at Work'.

The NIP has also started to pay attention to the problem of stress in the workplace and well-being. An event was hosted in Slovakia as part of the annual European week for safety and health at work organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. In 2002, the European week was devoted to fighting stress (EU0211201N) and the Slovak Republic took an active part, issuing leaflets, holding open days at inspection offices, and involving the mass media. A seminar was held on 'health and working life in the candidate countries - how to bring about change' aimed at developing a joint approach to enforcement of occupational health and safety, improving the environment and social protection. Another project relates to promotion of good practices in health protection and environmental and safety management at enterprises, involving comprehensive support for health at work encompassing all interested parties, both inside and outside the company. The project attempts to get the relevant parties to take a more active attitude towards health - ie to take care of their own and their family's health, taking into consideration environment, lifestyle, social security and healthcare. The project also seeks to encourage companies to prioritise health in order to achieve the main objective of the World Health Organisation (WHO) - ie to attain for all people a level of health which will allow them to have a socially and economically productive life. The NIP is also involved in implementing the international WHO Environmental Health Information System (EHIS) and in the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions' European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO).

An Information Centre for Labour Protection (Informacné centrum ochrany práce, ICOP) has been established within the NIP under an EU Phare project entitled 'improved system of labour protection in the Slovak Republic'. The main task of this Centre is to provide public information on labour protection in order to improve occupational health and safety (SK0310101N). Another Phare project, on a 'labour protection information system' has been implemented, furnishing software for labour inspection offices which will gradually replace the existing software throughout the NIP organisation. At the end of 2002, a project on 'working life and EU enlargement' was agreed with the Swedish National Labour Market Administration (Arbetsförmedlingen, AMS). The main objectives are to strengthen labour inspection performance in the Slovak Republic and to support further development of the Information Centre for Labour Protection.

Commentary

Analysis of inspection results shows that in 2002 employers did not significantly improve their performance in occupational health and safety. Several factors had an impact in this area. Enterprise management of health and safety at work is still unsystematic and conceptually lacking, while policy remains underdeveloped. Furthermore, higher management, technicians and employees remain only dimly aware of the legal requirements and training is inadequate. Employers, seeking to cut costs, do not invest enough in occupational health and safety: for example, they do not provide adequate protective clothing and equipment, making do with old or worn-out apparatus. It is much easier, at least in the short term, for employers to 'buy off' employees with compensatory payments for dangerous working conditions than to invest in new, health-friendly technologies.

Labour inspections also brought to light a number of other problem areas requiring immediate action:

  • employers in regions hit by high unemployment take advantage of this fact by concluding unfavourable employment contracts with workers; and
  • employees, for fear of losing their job, are willing to put up with lower standards in labour relations and occupational health and safety.

It is a matter of urgency that a law on illegal working practices be passed. The NIP report for 2002 recommends the establishment of an advisory and coordinatory body under the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family, which would deal with legal and other important issues related to eliminating illegal work.

Recent amendments to the Labour Code do not guarantee equal pay for women and men for work of equal value (as required by EU Directive 75/117/EEC on equal pay), only for the same work . The legislation in this area is still unclear: on the one hand, social policy and labour market policy support women’s participation in work; but on the other hand there are still numerous occupations in which women have yet to be accepted.

According to the NIP Report, workplace labour inspection in 2003 was to focus mainly on the following:

  • preparation of an implementation system (legislative, methodological and personal) dealing with the management and assessment of occupational health and safety in the workplace;
  • encouraging higher management (through provision of advice and dissemination of good practices) to make occupational health and safety an integral part of everyday enterprise activities;
  • stricter enforcement of health and safety legislation, including measures to be taken by employers to improve health and safety, highlighting their legal responsibility; and
  • the condition of technical equipment, procedures and work performance from the point of view of labour protection at construction sites and in the operation of special machinery.

Apart from legislative work, which has been proceeding well, other changes must be implemented in order to guarantee effective labour inspection, as well as harmonisation with EU standards. These changes include adequate financing of the inspection offices, improvement of their technical equipment and transportation, and higher pay in keeping with the professional, physical and intellectual demands of the inspectors' work. The number of executive inspectors in the Slovak Republic should be brought in line with EU standards: there are 7,500 employees per inspector in the EU, while in the Slovak Republic each inspector is responsible for 10,500 employees. The NIP plans to increase the number of inspectors by 122 in 2003. (Ludovít Cziria, Bratislava Centre for Work and Family Studies)

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