Lithuania: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

Difficulties in collective bargaining, industrial action in the education and forestry sectors, discussions on the national agreement and enactment of the new Labour Code are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Lithuania in the second quarter of 2017.

Sectoral bargaining and signing of sectoral agreement

During the second quarter of 2017, intensive bargaining took place between unions representing education workers and the Ministry of Education and Science. On 27 June, education trade unions and ministry representatives agreed on a final version of the collective agreement in the sector, but as yet it has not been signed. It has been suggested that 1 September 2017 may be a possible date for signing the agreement, but given that the process has so far lasted for more than two years, this is not certain.

In contrast, a sectoral collective agreement in the healthcare sector was signed on 16 June 2017 between the Ministry of Health and five sectoral trade unions. The decision to draw up a sectoral collective agreement was adopted at the tripartite council of the Lithuanian National Health System in September 2013, but the agreement has only just been signed.

The fixed-term agreement regulates a range of issues:

  • entering into, amendment and termination of employment contracts
  • work and rest time; occupational health and safety
  • the obligations of employees
  • measures of support for social partnership.

The agreement ensures longer annual leave and shorter working hours for employees, and provides for the possibility of discussing future pay increases by making relevant amendments to the agreement. The list of institutions to which the agreement applies, approved as an annex to the agreement, comprises 267 institutions from the Lithuanian health system. The agreement will be valid for two years.

Protests, strikes, actions

A significant number of protests, strikes and other forms of industrial action were organised by trade unions in various sectors, the majority organised by the education and forestry unions.

industrial action in education 

Industrial action in the education sector was mainly in response to proposals to extend the academic year and trade unions’ dissatisfaction with the progress of collective bargaining in the sector. On 10 April 2017, education trade unions, supported by other public-benefit organisations, held a protest called ‘Is Longer Better?’ to protest against the extension of the academic year initiated by the Ministry of Education and Science. The ministry proposed that secondary schools’ academic year should be extended by two weeks, ending in the second half of June.

On 8 June 2017, five education trade unions organised an improvised press conference in the form of a picket near the Ministry of Education and Science buildings and, on 28 June, led a rally in front of the government building in support of signing the education sector collective agreement.

Protests in forestry sector

In the forestry sector, there were protests about anticipated wide-ranging reform of Lithuanian forest enterprises. On 21 June 2017, the Federation of Lithuanian Forest and Wood Worker Trade Unions (LMPF) held a picket to protest against ‘hasty and non-transparent’ state forest management reform, followed by a rally on 29 June against ‘non-democratic and non-transparent’ reform of management of state-owned forests.

Public transport workers in Vilnius, officers of Utena County Police Headquarters and workers of the Panevėžys Social Care Home also protested and organised pickets in the second quarter.

National agreement and the Labour Code

At the sitting of the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania on 23 May 2017, social partners agreed to negotiate and sign a national agreement on ‘reforms necessary for the country’s progress’. Although a specific task force for drafting the national agreement was set up and discussions took place among social partners in May and June, the wording of the agreement was not agreed upon until the middle of July.

The ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union party also signed another tripartite national agreement on regular wage increases. According to the authors of the agreement, the Tripartite Council should hold permanent negotiations to set wages and agree pay increases in individual economic sectors. Unfortunately, like the national agreement on reforms, this agreement was neither finally negotiated nor signed until the middle of July.

After long discussions and deliberations in parliament and the Tripartite Council, the new Labour Code was finally adopted on 6 June 2017 and took effect from 1 July. The most important provisions of the new Labour Code amend working time regulation, set out the new role of works councils, establish more transparent regulation regarding payment for work, introduce new forms of employment and liberalise employment protection legislation.

Commentary

No important developments or changes are likely during the summer in the areas covered by this article. However, what is likely to happen to the collective agreement for the education sector will be revealed at the beginning of September; the education trade unions will then react to those developments.

After the summer break, the social partners may also return to consideration of the national agreement. As July and August are traditionally holiday months in Lithuania, it seems likely that the real changes introduced by the new Labour Code in both individual and collective relations areas will begin to emerge in the autumn.

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