Position of migrant workers in Slovenia

A recent report by the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) examines the position of migrant workers in the Slovenian labour market over the past few years. It looks at the problems of breaches of labour and employment legislation, health and safety, accommodation of migrant workers and sector variations in their treatment (construction appears to be the worst sector in this regard). ZSSS is working to improve living and working conditions for migrant workers in Slovenia.

Slovenia’s largest trade union association, the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) issued a report (in Slovenian, 276Kb PDF) in 2010 on the position of migrant workers in the Slovenian labour market. The assessment made in the report relies on the annual reports by the Labour Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia (IRSD) for the period 2006–2009.

Report’s main findings

Common irregularities

Irregularities in the area of employment and the work of foreigners are predominantly related to work contracts and health and safety at work. The inspectors found that it is not uncommon for employers not to give a work contract to foreign workers, thus diminishing their chances of protecting their rights or even learning about them in the first place.

Another problem identified by ZSSS is that even those foreign workers who have work permits and could, under Slovenian legislation, be employed on an open-ended contract are employed on a fixed-term contract basis.

Sector variations

The irregularities identified in the report are most frequent in the construction, metalworking, transport and forestry sectors.

Construction is the sector with the highest share of migrant workers; out of 75,652 valid work permits in 2010, some 32,200 were issued for work in the construction sector. Another acute problem in the sector is the handing out of unregistered cash payments for which the employers do not pay social security contributions and taxes.

There have been several cases where an employer brings a group of workers to a construction site for a ‘trial period’ without having signed any sort of contract with them. After the so-called trial period, the employer employs those workers who meet the site’s requirements and sends the rest of them home. There have also been cases where the social and health security contributions for the migrant worker have not been paid and the workers only realised this when they fell ill or their contract expired.

The report also mentions the very poor living facilities for migrant workers and blames it on the lack of any kind of formal regulation in this area.

Health and safety

In 2008, IRSD carried out an inspection of employers who employ foreign workers, which focused on the implementation of labour legislation and regulations related to health and safety issues. Almost half of the 137 inspections were carried out in the construction sector, and the inspectorate found the highest number of violations of health and safety regulations and other work-related legislation in this sector.

The report draws particular attention to a number of findings from the latest IRSD annual report. For example, it emphasises that the situation has not changed with regard to health and safety, and that although the situation is not critical in the case of big companies, it is entirely different in the case of small employers who are more numerous and more difficult to monitor.

There were 25 fatal accidents at work in 2009 and seven of the victims were foreign workers (six from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one from Croatia). All six Bosnian workers were employed on a fixed-term contract and died at the construction site where they were employed. This tragedy illustrates how little is being done to train and educate those workers employed on fixed-term contracts, which is the typical form of employment contract in the first two years of a foreign worker’s stay in Slovenia.

Breaches of labour law

According to the report, the overall number of breaches of labour laws governing the employment and working conditions of foreign workers is rising; in 2008, IRSD recorded 318 breaches, but in 2009 there were 340. According to the Employment and Work of Aliens Act (in Slovenian), fines for violations in this area range from €50 to €20,865.

ZSSS activities

In the past couple of years, ZSSS has been actively involved in finding solutions to the problems facing migrant workers in the Slovenian labour market with particular attention being paid to the accommodation of foreign workers, the information system, and health and safety issues.

Public exposure by ZSSS of the poor living conditions of migrant workers produced a positive effect and was followed by the setting up by the Ministry for Labour, Family and Social Affairs (MDDSZ) of a working group whose task was to prepare a new law on accommodation for foreign workers. The working group included representatives of ZSSS. The positive outcome of this action is the new bill on the employment and work of foreigners (in Slovenian), which the government has accepted and sent to begin its parliamentary procedure on 30 December 2010.

ZSSS has prepared an information leaflet about working and living in Slovenia which, with help from the international trade union network, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MZZ) and the Employment Service of Slovenia (ZRSZ), has been translated into 17 languages and distributed to Slovenian embassies and foreign employment services.


Lukic, G., Delavci migranti v primežu politike. Poročilo o položaju delavcev migrantov v Sloveniji in izvajanju migrantske polike (in Slovenian, 276Kb PDF) [Migrant workers in the clutches of politics. A report on the position of migrant workers in Slovenia and on the implementation of migration policy], Ljubljana, ZSSS, 2010.

Mirko Mrčela, Organisations and Human Resources Research Centre (OHRC)

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