New government programme includes union demands
The Slovakian parliament has approved the programme of the newly elected government. Several measures that had been put forward by the trade unions are included in the programme, particularly in relation to changes in employment conditions, industrial relations and social dialogue. These changes are aimed at protecting certain categories of employees and strengthening the position of the trade unions in the social dialogue process. However, employer representatives expressed their concern that the proposed changes in the Labour Code risk worsening the position of employees in the labour market.
In the post-election context in Slovakia, the main subject of discussion has been the extent to which the new government would abolish the reform measures implemented by the previous administration. In accordance with its election programme, the leading coalition party Smer-Sociálna demokracia (Smer-SD) has proposed changes in the social sphere, including labour legislation.
The election programme of Smer-SD was supported by the Slovakian Confederation of Trade Unions (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR). Subsequently, the trade unions expected the new government to take their demands into account. The programme declaration of the new government was approved by the parliament at the beginning of August 2006 and a gradual implementation of the proposed measures is being prepared.
Content of programme
The Programme for Government includes the following main chapters:
- Principles and values of the Programme for Government
- Macroeconomic framework, public finance and economic policy
- Social policy
- Knowledge-based society
- Democracy and rule of law
- State defence
- Foreign policy
The programme builds on the work of the former government insofar as the policies are compatible. The government considers the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to be the main guarantee for Euro-Atlantic security. In the sphere of foreign policy and state defence, the government will encourage deepening of the partnership and of the strategic cooperation within NATO and the European Union. It will support the continuation of the European integration process and the consolidation of the EU.
Measures in economic sphere
The programme emphasises that the government will support in a flexible manner a realistic policy direction for Slovakia towards fulfilment of its constitutional obligations as a welfare state. In this respect, the preparation of the new government’s policy has been carefully observed by the employer and trade union organisations, particularly in the economic and social spheres.
In the field of economic policy, the new government sets out the following programme goals: to focus on combining economic growth and performance with employment growth, social cohesion and an improved quality of life for all; to adopt the euro currency in 2009; to guarantee stability and a degree of certainty in the business environment; to draft the national employment strategy and to support those who are self-employed as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Social policy measures
The social policy chapter of the government programme includes the following main sections:
- Employment policy
- Labour relations and social dialogue
- Social security
- Family support
- Support of gender equality
- Efficiency of institutions.
The new government will continue the policy of placing the main emphasis on increasing employment and reducing unemployment. As before, this aim will be achieved by the creation of new jobs through a variety of measures: fostering appropriate investment; increasing job attractiveness, productivity and quality of work; involvement in the knowledge-based economy; and reducing the proportion of low-wage earners.
The government intends to adopt active measures to enforce a programme-oriented approach towards strengthening social inclusion, through preventing exclusion from the labour market and supporting the integration of disadvantaged groups into the labour market. In addressing these issues, the government will cooperate closely with the social partners and with regional and local authorities. Regarding the provision of social benefits, the government will continue to require the active involvement of unemployed people in public works. Employment policy will be implemented along with guaranteeing the principle of equal opportunities.
The government will prepare amendments to the Labour Code with the objective of ensuring greater protection for certain categories of employees, for example, protection against unjustified dismissals of part-time employees or against the discrimination of temporary agency workers. The amendments will also set the maximum weekly working time, including overtime.
Furthermore, the government aims to address the low cost of labour and is committed to continuing the steady increase in the minimum wage. It also intends to adopt measures to mitigate the deepening and unjustified differences in the cost of labour among regions and sectors in Slovakia.
To achieve better compliance with labour legislation and with employee rights, the government aims to strengthen the performance of labour inspection. The government will review the occupational health and safety standards and, in adopting new standards, will favour procedures which have been approved by the social partners.
It is also the government’s intention to review industrial relations and legislation in the public sector, in order to ensure professional quality, efficiency and effective performance of public and civil services.
Strengthening of social dialogue
Social dialogue is considered by the government to be an effective tool for the participation of employees and employers in drafting social and economic policy, and in maintaining social peace. For this purpose, it wants to support the trade unions in regaining their position as an effective defender of employee interests, and as an equal party to the social dialogue. The government intends to establish a supreme-level council of tripartite concertation based on the principle of equal social partnership between the government, the trade unions and the employer organisations. At the same time, the government will also support the establishment or revival of sectoral and regional tripartism. Moreover, it wants to support bipartite social dialogue between employers and trade unions, mainly through legislative measures, in order to eliminate the current barriers to efficient collective bargaining.
Views of social partners
In the field of industrial and labour relations, the programme declaration of the new Slovakian government includes several proposals that had been put forward by the trade unions before the elections (SK0601101N). According to the President of KOZ SR, Ivan Saktor, the trade unions succeeded in introducing 80% of their demands into the programme for government (source: daily newspaper SME, 29 July 2006: ‘Minimálna mzda: výšku povie vláda’). The trade unions anticipate that the planned changes in industrial relations will lead to improvements in living and working conditions for the Slovakian people.
On the other hand, the programme for government also includes issues that were demanded by the employers, such as reintroducing the form of employment based on contract work. The trade unions have objected to this proposal, as this form of employment was abolished by the previous administration at the request of the unions.
Representatives of the Association of Enterprises of Slovakia (Združenie podnikatelov Slovenska, ZPS) expressed their concern that the government accepted certain demands of the trade unions – such as the increase of employee protection – that could endanger the position of employees in the labour market, increase unemployment and encourage undeclared work. Furthermore, the business community criticises the government programme for ignoring the need to reduce taxation and the employers’ fiscal burden.
According to a representative of Smer-SD, the government will only make changes in the Labour Code that will increase the protection of employees while not harming the business environment at the same time (SME, 9 August 2006: ‘Podnikatelov trápi vládny program’).
Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research