Law on temporary work defeated in referendum

A new Slovenian law on temporary work, which had been vigorously opposed by unions and youth organisations, was roundly defeated in a national referendum in April 2011 with a surprisingly high ‘no’ vote of more than 80%. The outcome was seen as a clear vote of no-confidence in the government, and it was then defeated again in July in a triple referendum on crucial economic policies such as pension reform and the prevention of undeclared work. Early elections are now likely to be held.


The law on temporary work (in Slovenian, 171Kb PDF) set out to regulate different forms of temporary work or ‘small work’ in Slovenia. It defines this kind of work as paid temporary or occasional work or longer-term time-limited work of people such as students, pensioners and unemployed people (SI1011019I).

‘Small jobs’ are performed on the basis of a referral which creates a special contractual relationship between the employer and the employee. This relationship is not an employment relationship; therefore, small jobs are not regulated by Slovenian employment law.

The new law would allow the unemployed, students and pensioners to work up to 60 hours per week and 720 hours per year but with fewer rights, such as lower pay, no reimbursement of work-related costs (meals during work, travel to and from work, business trips), no remuneration for sick leave or parental leave, no holiday allowance, no severance pay and no annual holidays.

The Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) said that the enforcement of this form of work would increase the number of people in temporary work, cut the number in permanent or fixed-term employment and increase social exclusion and poverty, all in the name of ‘better competitiveness’.

Law passed by parliament

The law on temporary work was passed by the National Assembly on 26 October 2010. A week later, on 2 November, the National Council voted to delay the law, urging the National Assembly to reconsider its decision. Nevertheless, on 16 November 2010, parliament passed the law for the second time.

The vote to delay the law in the National Council was proposed by members belonging to the ‘workers’ group’ within the council. A special council session was held on 22 November at the demand of this group to decide whether to call a national referendum on the law. The motion was lost but Dušan Semolič, a leader of the workers’ group and President of ZSSS, said unions would continue to fight the implementation of the law.

Opposition united

The unions joined a campaign set up by youth organisations to collect the 40,000 signatures needed to trigger an automatic national referendum.

The ZSSS had protested for a long time against the government's attempts to introduce a new form of temporary work with this law, which substantially reduced workers' rights, and had called on unions abroad to write letters of solidarity in protest at the law.

The National Referendum was held on 10 April 2011 and voters were asked whether they were for or against the law on temporary work. The law was decisively defeated in the referendum, with a surprising 80% of votes against from a turnout of nearly 34%. The outcome was seen as a painful vote of no-confidence for the government, indicating that the coalition would have a hard time pushing through other, more crucial reforms.

More referendum defeats for the government

Prime Minister Borut Pahor acknowledged that the referendum defeat was also a vote against the government. But he played down the importance of the law, saying pension reforms were the key to long-term budget stability..

On Sunday 5 June 2011 a triple referendum was held, in which voters were asked their opinion of three laws that were vital elements of the government reform programme. All three, including the centrepiece project of pension reform, were rejected overwhelmingly by voters.

In the referendum on pension reform 27.82% voted ‘yes’ and 72.18% voted ‘no’ with 0.46% of the vote invalid. The turnout was 40.24%.

Changes to the prevention of undeclared work were voted down most vigorously with 75.54% of the vote for and 24.46% against, with 0.73% invalid ballots. The turnout was 40.22%.

Meanwhile, 71.01% voted against changes to the archives law, aimed at restricting access to the intelligence archives of the communist-era Office of State Security (SDV). 28.99% voted for the changes and 1.60% of the vote was invalid. The turnout was 40.19%.


These defeats have paralysed the decision-making ability of the government, hindered its reform programme and diminished its legitimacy. Prime Minister Pahor and President Danilo Türk have both talked of the possibility of holding early elections, potentially later in 2011.

Štefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development

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