Slovenia: Police end a six-month strike following agreement
A six-month strike by police officers was suspended in June. The agreement between the government and police unions gives pay rises to police officers amounting to between 8% and 20% by 2018. However, it has struck a blow to unity of the public sector wage system.
After a police strike of more than six months and 15 rounds of negotiations, the Minister of the Interior and both of Slovenia’s police unions signed an agreement on 2 June 2016. It was the fourth in five years but not the longest – the strike in 2013 lasted 201 days.
The strike began on 18 November 2015 and lasted 198 days. The main demand was that commitments made by the previous government for the years 2010, 2012 and 2013 should be honoured. These commitments focused primarily on the elimination of wage anomalies in officers’ pay and the granting of equal pay compared with their colleagues in other European countries. The commitment given in recent years had been conditional and linked to economic growth; pay rises would be paid in the year following a year when the growth in gross domestic product exceeded 2.2%, as it did in 2015. Officers also called for better protective equipment to help them to work safely and an increase in recruitment as units were understaffed.
Altogether the police unions presented 26 requests to the government. One set was related to material working conditions and the other to remuneration and benefits, particularly to the demand for a 35% salary increase for all police officers. The head of police said the officers had the right to take industrial action to demand recognition of the value of their work, but also stressed that in the context of the refugee crisis the strike should not lead to reduced security. Slovenian law requires that industrial action by the police must not endanger the safety of citizens and their property, and officers must continue to fulfil any international obligations such as border control.
The main issue during the negotiations was the pay increase. It was recognised that wage comparison between police forces of different EU countries is complicated. Usually, basic police pay is close to a country’s average wage level, but the amounts and forms of special bonuses for officers vary significantly between countries. Some have certain forms of tax relief, and elsewhere very high severance pay is paid on retirement. In Slovenia, additional pension insurance allows officers to retire 10 years earlier than all other citizens. Even so, according to union estimates, all Slovenian police officers would have to be awarded pay increases of between 26% and 35% to earn a wage broadly comparable with their counterparts in other countries. It was estimated that this demand for higher wages would add almost €90 million a year to the state budget. The government strongly opposed this proposal and would consider only the possibility of eliminating wage irregularities between officers.
Effects of the strike
The general public did not particularly feel the effects of the police strike since officers were required by law to continue much of their work as usual. The strike was more visible during the Christmas holidays of 2015, when large numbers took the leave they were owed.During the strike, they confined themselves to the tasks of keeping citizens and property safe, as required by law, and put aside other police work such as surveiling certain traffic violations. This led to revenue losses due to fewer fines being imposed for traffic offences.
Outcome of negotiations
The strike was suspended with the signing of the new agreement. The wages of most officers will increase slightly later this year, and there will be a further rise in 2018. This will eliminate key irregularities within the entire police career system, although a comprehensive overhaul is still awaiting government action. At the beginning of the negotiations, both sides had totally different objectives. The cost of the initial union demands was estimated to be almost €90 million, while the government was prepared to pay only an additional €7 million to officers. The final agreement puts aside an extra €10.3 million annually to eliminate irregularities (that is, to raise the salaries of operating police units). As the agreement will be enforced in late autumn, the extra cost for 2016 will amount to only €1.7 million. The further increase in police wages will happen in 2018 and will cost the state an additional €6.8 million.
The agreement will give wage rises to about 6,000 of the country’s 8,200 police officers from all tariff groups. The wages of those in the fifth and sixth tariff classes will rise by 8% except for those who do not perform direct operational work and those whose salaries are higher because of the specific tasks they carry out. Wages of police officers in the seventh tariff class will rise by 4%, while those in the positions of senior criminal inspector specialist, deputy commander and officer in the criminal police will also receive an additional 4%. When the increase in police salaries is paid in 2018, there will also be a transition to a ‘post-secondary’ system requiring a higher level of education for police officers. Serving officers will be given five years to acquire these additional qualifications, except for those with more than 15 years’ service, whose experience will be regarded as a replacement for the further education. In 2018, almost all police officers who have secondary education will receive pay increases of between 4% and 12%. Overall, the new agreement means that officers’ wages in 2018 will be between 8% and 20% higher than before.
Consequences for the broader public sector
The new agreement between the government and the police unions has upset the other public sector unions. A unified public sector salary system for all public servants (such as officials, teachers, doctors, researchers, police officers and soldiers) was introduced in 2008, and this was the first departure from it for one particular professional group. Other unions believe that such a separate approach destroys the wage system’s unity, and similar requests are expected on behalf of other public sector professions.
It is somewhat awkward that, during the first half of the 2016, while the police unions were staging their industrial action, central wage negotiations on wage policy for the period 2017–2020 were also underway between the government and all other public sector unions. These talks are currently deadlocked. By giving separate recognition to the demands of only one group of public sector employees, say the unions representing other public sector employees, the government has invited all of them to take the same path, since there are wage anomalies in other parts of the public sector.
It is expected that the police officers’ wage increase will cause the wage ratios within the public sector to crumble. There are other professional groups within the current public sector wage system that are ranked in a similar way to the police officers, have similar responsibilities and, among the uniformed professions, perform comparable tasks. All other public employees also have their own specific demands. As a result, the government has appointed an inter-ministerial working group for the elimination of wage anomalies. This is expected to report soon on how to resolve the anomalies for comparable groups of public officials.