Lituania: Latest working life developments – Q4 2016
The election of the new parliament, subsequent discussions with the social partners and the decision to postpone implementation of the 2016 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 fourth quarter of 2016.
Social partners react to new government
The central event of the fourth quarter of 2016, which had implications for both industrial relations and working conditions, was the elections to the Lithuanian Parliament (LRS) that took place at the beginning of October. The Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union (LVZS), which won the parliamentary elections, declared several socially-oriented initiatives. A review of the much-debated new Labour Code and the social model as a whole was a priority on its agenda.
In general, trade unions had relatively positive responses to the new ruling party. Several unionists have come to the Parliament as members of LVZS and the board of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK) is considering signing an agreement on closer cooperation with LVZS.
Employer representatives are quite sceptical about the ambitious targets and initiatives of the new government. They publicly expressed concerns about several LVZS proposals such as the plan to introduce an alcohol and drug monopoly. Employers state that authorities should refrain from intervening in business and be cautious before taking major decisions.
In November, the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists (LPK), the main peak-level employer organisation, announced that it expected attention and assistance from the new government on a number of issues, including:
- reform of the education system;
- promotion of cooperation between business and science;
- strengthening relations with foreign partners;
- the search for new labour markets.
Implementation of new social model postponed
On 20 December, the Parliament passed a decision to postpone implementation of the Labour Code and related legislation for six months, until 1 July 2017.
Minor amendments to the Labour Code, which was adopted in 2016, had already been made on 3 November, including the banning of zero-hour contracts and some additional provisions favourable for employees. However, the government deemed that postponement would allow additional time to consider other amendments to the Labour Code in order to achieve an even better balance between the interests of employees and employers, and to better meet the expectations of Lithuanian people. They agreed not to withdraw from the original idea of the reform and liberalisation of employment relations.
The decision to postpone implementation of the Labour Code was preceded by active discussions among those in power and meetings with the social partners. Although trade unions supported the postponement of the Labour Code and the employer organisations pronounced themselves in favour of implementing it as soon as possible, it was finally agreed to suspend implementation.
In 2017, representatives of trade unions, employer organisations and the government will continue negotiations on the most problematic aspects of the Labour Code, including working time and representation of employees.
Industrial unrest in science and education sector
The main developments in the science and education sector in the fourth quarter of 2016 were a demonstration by scientists – the first ever in the history of independent Lithuania – and an initiative to merge three education workers’ trade unions.
On 28 October, a steering group of several State research institutes held a two-hour demonstration, from 12.00 to 14.00. The aim was to draw the public’s attention to the difficult situation of scientists in Lithuania and to demand increased funding and higher salaries for research and higher education institutions and their employees.
The protest was attended by several dozens of scientists and researchers armed with placards pointing out the low salaries paid to this group of employees. The demonstrators presented a petition to the President, the parliament, the government, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Finance. The petition claimed that low salaries and poverty encourage the emigration of scientists and that researchers and lecturers are being forced to withdraw from higher education or take simultaneous jobs at several workplaces. It stated that this is harmful not only for the system of education and science, but also for the entire economy of the country.
Three education trade unions – the Trade Union of Lithuanian Education Institutions’ Employees (LŠĮPS), the Lithuanian Education Employees Trade Union (LEETU) and the Lithuanian Teachers’ Union (LMPS) – initiated a merger procedure. To confirm their intentions, on 27 October the unions signed a Resolution on Merger and Social Partnering.