Government plans changes to collective bargaining laws
Collective bargaining laws, brought in by the previous Slovakian government, have sparked strong opposition from employers since taking effect from 1 January 2010. The legislation means the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family can extend a multi-employer collective agreement to cover a whole sector or branch, without the consent of the employer, if recommended by a special advisory committee. However, unions oppose plans by the new government to limit the extensions.
The extension mechanism
A new mechanism for the extension of multi-employer collective agreements in Slovakia came into force from 1 January, 2010. The need for the consent of the employer was abolished by the Act No. 564/2009 on collective bargaining (646Kb PDF), which amended Act No. 2/1991. Proposals for the new extension mechanism were made after consultation with International Labour Organisation (ILO) expert Niklas Bruun (SK0906019I, SK0708019I, SK0809019I). According to the new legislation:
- the scope of multi-employer collective agreements should be specified by the respective code under the General Industrial Classification of Economic Activities (NACE);
- the collective agreement is applied to those employers affiliated to the employer association which signed the agreement, and if their activities fall within the NACE specification;
- multi-employer collective agreements can also be applied to an employer, even if not a member of the contracting employer association, if the contracting parties agree;
- upon the request of both or one of the contracting parties, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (MPSVR SR) can extend the collective agreement to all or some employers in the sector/s covered by the agreement.
The law also specifies cases when the extension of multi-employer agreement cannot be applied to an employer, for instance if:
- the employer is covered by another multi-employer agreement;
- it employs less than 20 employees;
- it is bankrupt.
In order to establish consultations over the Act and the objections of employers, the MPSVR SR established a tripartite Advisory Commission in which representatives of trade unions and employers were equally represented.
Although, so far, no multi-employer collective agreement has been extended under the new law, employers criticised the existing extension mechanism and tried to avoid extensions as much as possible. In order to make the Slovak labour market and industrial relations more flexible, they called for changes to the existing extension mechanism. The government coalition MPs have proposed changes in the law to prevent the extension of collective agreements to those employers not represented by the contracting employer association. In this way, the extension of multi-employer agreements would be possible only when the employer concerned agrees. The government accepted the proposals on 20 October 2010, and the draft bill will be discussed by parliament.
Responses of trade unions
Trade unions affiliated to the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ SR) are opposing the draft bill. They are citing the negative experience they had with the radical reduction of extensions in Slovakia between 2005 and 2008. Trade unions are also against proposals for significant changes in the Labour Code and to the government’s budget proposals for 2011. According to KOZ SR representatives, these proposals will increase consumer prices and squeeze family budgets. KOZ SR organised protest actions to express the view of trade unionists to changes planned by the government. Prime Minister Iveta Radičová says the unions’ reaction is not surprising, given that they supported the political party SMER-SD during the recent elections. Regional protests have been organised by unions, beginning with a local demonstration in the east Slovakian city Košice on 1 October 2010 and finishing with a national rally in Bratislava on 12 October 2010, attended by about 2,000 trade unionists.
Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research