Legislation amended to extend collective agreements

The government recently submitted amendments to the Act on collective bargaining to parliament, which endorsed the proposed changes through Act No. 328/2007 (effective since 1 September 2007). The amendments provide for changes relating to the extension of sectoral collective agreements, to the decision of trade unions concerning industrial action and to collective bargaining in cases where more than one trade union is active at the company.

For some time, trade unions have demanded changes in the legislation regulating collective bargaining. In its programme, the coalition government promised to increase the efficiency of social dialogue in Slovakia (SK0609019I). With the new Act on tripartism (SK0701019I), in November 2006, the Slovakian parliament adopted several legislative changes regulating the extension of sectoral collective agreements. These changes allow for collective agreements to be extended without the consent of the employer. However, employer representatives considered these provisions to be unconstitutional and raised objections before the constitutional court. The court has not yet delivered any decision on this matter; therefore, this controversial provision of the Act on tripartism has yet to come into effect.

Amendments to collective bargaining act

The coalition government recently submitted to parliament a proposal for several amendments to Act No. 2/1991 on collective bargaining. The parliament approved the changes and passed Act No. 328/2007. Effective since 1 September 2007, the act stipulates new regulations on collective bargaining, industrial action voting and the extension of sectoral collective agreements.

Under the new Act, a company will be allowed to conclude a collective agreement with one or more trade union bodies, as long as they represent the majority of employees. Up until now, it was impossible to conclude a collective agreement at company level until all trade unions active in the company had come to a mutual agreement. This change in the Act prevents cases where one trade union organisation, representing only a small number of employees, may block the conclusion of a collective agreement.

The legislative amendment also changes the way in which employees vote to decide on industrial action, modifying it from a secret ballot to an open voting system. The parliamentary opposition tried unsuccessfully to keep the ballot secret. It argued that the proposed change will increase the psychological pressure on employees when deciding on strike action and would make their decision more difficult.

Significant change in extension of collective agreements

The amendment also changes the previous rules pertaining to the extension of collective agreements, rules that had been strongly criticised by the trade unions. According to the previous rules, an extension of a collective agreement required the consent of the employer concerned. In most cases, employers did not agree to an extension of the agreement. As a result, the number of extended collective agreements remained very low: during 2005–2006, for instance, only four collective agreements were extended (SK0703019Q).

According to the amendment, each sectoral collective agreement will be marked with the corresponding NACE code and it will be possible to extend it to those companies whose main activity falls within the respective NACE classification of the sector. However, some exemptions exist where the extension cannot be applied – for example, where a company is already covered by another sectoral collective agreement, and in the case of small enterprises with fewer than 20 employees. The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR) is still deciding on the extension rules. However, the proposal in relation to the extension of collective agreements will be reviewed by a tripartite working group, established for this purpose by the ministry and comprising employer and trade union representatives.

Commentary

The most controversial change in the Act on collective bargaining is most likely the provision to extend a sectoral collective agreement to other companies in the sector without the consent of the companies’ management. It might happen that employer representatives, who recently rejected similar changes concerning the extension of collective agreements embedded in the Act on tripartism, will also raise objections against the provisions of the amended Act on collective bargaining before the constitutional court.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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