Government approves Labour Law amendments

The most extensive amendments to Latvia’s Labour Laws since the country’s accession to the European Union are awaiting approval by the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament. The changes, first approved by the Latvian Government on 6 August 2013, tackle important issues of employment relations law and were supported by the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia at a meeting of the National Tripartite Cooperation Council.

Background

The Labour Law in Latvia sets out the basic legal principles of the country’s employment system. All matters relating to employment rights are covered on various levels in a single document, although it is supplemented by 36 other acts, more than 20 of which deal with labour protection matters. The current Labour Law has been in force since 1 June 2002, and during that time it has been amended seven times.

The new amendments to the Labour Law were prepared by the Ministry of Welfare and must be approved by the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia, the country’s parliament.

Impact of the amendments

Previous amendments to the Labour Law primarily added various provisions. The latest changes improve existing legal norms of employment relations on a wide range of issues.

The draft law more clearly states what information must be included in vacancy announcements and employment contracts. It requires employers to keep employment contracts on file and to show them to monitoring authorities upon request.

A variety of issues to do with salaries are specifically addressed. For instance, it details the calculation of the ‘median salary’ and deductions from an employee’s salary to compensate the employer for losses.

Several clarifications are intended to bring work and rest periods in line with EU requirements. These include methods of accounting for overtime work, night shifts and aggregated working time.

Rules on giving notice by means of regular or electronic mail have been clarified. The period in which an employer must notify the State Employment Agency (NVA) and the local government about an impending collective dismissal has been shortened.

The period during which an employee can receive a reprimand has been extended. The employer is required to issue the reprimand in writing. The period within which an employee may request the reprimand to be withdrawn has been shortened to one month.

Social partner involvement

The Ministry of Welfare has stressed that the social partners are the main initiators of the changes. They were negotiated by the Latvian Employers’ Confederation (LDDK) and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS). The draft law has also been reviewed by the Employment Matters subcouncil of the National Tripartite Cooperation Council (NTSP).

LDDK said it was happy that the amendments had come about through social dialogue. It said social partners had succeeded in agreeing on amendments that would make Latvia’s labour market more flexible. The organisation pointed out, however, that employers and employees had not been able to agree on every point, and on some issues it had been impossible to reach a compromise.

For example, LDDK argued that payment for overtime work should be 50%, not 100%, of the employee’s basic salary. It added that there was the option of granting compensation for overtime work in the form of extra rest days if the employer and employee agreed. LDDK also wanted more regulation of a trade union’s right to withhold approval for the dismissal of a trade union member.

LBAS responded to LDDK’s comments with a letter-writing campaign called Hands off the Labour Law. The union confederation emphasised that the existing Labour Law obliged employers to pay 100% of basic salary for overtime work, and they were only demanding that this should not be changed. It also reiterated its demands that the employer receive approval from the trade union before dismissing an employee who was a trade union member.

LBAS has supported recommendations from social partners that improve an employee’s working conditions or that define labour relations more precisely. It backed a more precise definition of business trips, clarifications on the granting of maternity leave in cases when more than one child is born, and improved provisions regarding the employment of minors.

Commentary

In discussions on amendments to the Labour Law, unions have not always been able to agree. For example, LBAS has called for the inclusion of a provision forbidding a worker on a night shift to work more than eight hours in a 24-hour period if his or her duties entailed special risks. However, the health union, the Trade Union of Health and Social Care Employees of Latvia (LVSADA), objected. It said the proposal would adversely affect the working conditions of medical personnel and asked LBAS to withdraw this demand. LBAS has ignored this request.

Raita Karnite, EPC Ltd

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