Improved legal framework for unions

Latvia has enacted new legislation to regulate trade union activity. The government made a commitment in 2012 to improve and modernise the legal framework for unions and instructed the Ministries of Welfare and Justice to devise a new law which was adopted on 4 June 2013. It affirms an individual’s right to choose whether or not to join a union. It establishes the right of citizens to start and operate a union with a minimum number of founding members, and regulates the activities of authorised union officials.

Background

On 31 January 2012, Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers made a commitment to improve and modernise the legal framework for trade union activities, and to eliminate contradictions with other legislation. The Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Justice were instructed to draft new legislation to regulate trade unions, and the new act was finally adopted on 4 June 2013.

The legal framework for trade unions is contained in Article 108 of the Republic of Latvia’s Constitution and was governed by legislation which was adopted on 13 December 1990. That law had been amended only three times, in 2003, 2005 and 2012, and only the articles governing trade union registration had been changed.

The purpose of the new law is to modernise the legal framework for trade union activities and to eliminate contradictions with other legislation. It does not, however, change the essence of trade union activities.

Key changes

The new law adds some general provisions to the previous legal framework.

  • It affirms not only a person’s right to establish a trade union and to become a member of it, but also the right not to join a union.
  • The legislation accepts the employers’ recommendation that the new law should differentiate between company-level trade unions and those formed outside a company. Company unions must have a minimum of 15 founding members, or one-quarter of an enterprise’s employees as long as this number is no fewer than five employees. Non-company unions must have at least 50 founding members.
  • The activities of authorised union officials are regulated in detail by the new legislation.
  • It allows the territorial or other organisational units of a trade union to be independent legal entities. Trade unions have the right to engage in economic activities if they are related to maintaining or using their property, or to achieving the union’s goal.

Except for these additions, the general provisions of the new law are similar to those in the previous legal framework.

Improved social dialogue

Regulation of social dialogue, tripartite cooperation and union relationships with state and local government institutions is now similar to that of the legal framework of employers’ organisations.

In cooperation with the Cabinet of Ministers, the interests of trade unions are represented by the association of trade unions that unites the largest number of employees. The interests of a specific sector are to be represented by the trade union within the national association that unites the largest number of employees in that sector. State and local government institutions may also cooperate with other trade unions or their associations to involve a larger part of society in discussions.

The association of trade unions that unites the largest number of employees nominates trade union representatives to the National Tripartite Cooperation Council (NTSP) and its subcouncils. The trade union or association of trade unions that unites the largest number of employees in a given sector (or profession, or administrative territory) nominates the representatives for the tripartite cooperation institution in its sector (or profession, or administrative territory).

Union recommendations

The Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) supports the new draft law, but it made several recommendations about the legal status of various organisational units, asked that union approval should be sought before a union member was dismissed from a post, and suggested broadening the protection for authorised union officials where they are suspended from duty rather than served notice of termination of employment.

Workers’ representation

The Latvian Employers’ Confederation (LDDK) would like the new law to specify more clearly the minimum number of members required to establish a trade union (not fewer than 15). This, says the confederation, would better coordinate the interests of union members and employees’ authorised representatives.

LDDK also suggests limiting the number of employees’ representatives to three per enterprise, and limiting employment protection for authorised union officials so that it is not ‘excessive’.

Commentary

The new law has yet to be approved by the Republic of Latvia’s parliament, the Saeima.

Egīls Baldzēns, Deputy Chair of LBAS, said in a press statement that most of the union confederation’s recommendations and those of its member organisations had been taken into account in the preparation of the draft law. He said he believed that a sensible compromise had been reached, particularly in the employers’ recognition of the right to employment protection for authorised union officials and a minimum threshold for forming a trade union.

Raita Karnite, EPC Ltd.

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