Latvia: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

The upcoming parliamentary elections and a high level of activity among social partners in the education, healthcare, public services and construction sectors are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Latvia in the third quarter of 2018.

Upcoming parliamentary elections bring changes

The third quarter of 2018 was full of activities related to the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held on 6 October. Political parties not only outpaced each other in terms of the promises within their pre-election programmes, but also strived for recognition by introducing socially attractive norms in legislation.

The annual pension indexation, which has always been problematic, was adopted without delay and will be larger than before. [1] This is not only due to a higher average social insurance wage, but also the introduction of a special indexation coefficient for pensioners whose seniority is greater than 29 years.

In a working group, the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LTRK) and the Ministry of Welfare agreed that benefits for parents could be increased to 80% of the calculated amount of benefits for those beneficiaries (employees or self-employed) who decide to work. Currently, beneficiaries who decide to work can only receive 30% of the calculated benefit. The working group also introduced another condition: the other parent cannot be on childcare leave at the same time. [2]

On 4 October, the Latvian parliament adopted a historical amendment to the Constitution that means the president will now be elected through an open ballot by the parliament (previously the president was elected through a secret ballot).

Teachers hold government to its promise

The Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees (LIZDA) reminded the government of its promise to increase teachers’ wages from 1 September. The first answer – that the previously agreed increase was not possible – caused protests. LIZDA called on teachers to ignore the coalition parties in the forthcoming parliamentary elections if the promise was not fulfilled [3]. After a short round of seemingly unproductive negotiations, teachers’ wages were suddenly increased by €30 per month at the end of August, with the minimum rate reaching €710.

Reshuffle of emergency medical services put on hold

In August, the Trade Union of Health and Social Care Employees of Latvia (LVSADA) instigated a collective interest dispute and submitted a claim to the Ministry of Healthcare against further reductions in the number of 24-hour emergency services in the Latgale, Vidzeme and Zemgale regions. The negotiation process ended with the promise that the reorganisation of emergency medical services in the three regions would be put on hold for an undefined period. [4]

Bus drivers and health sector workers take industrial action

On 16 August, industrial action was organised in Liepaja in order to solve a conflict between passenger bus drivers and their employer, Liepajas Autobusu Parks. The dispute arose because the drivers, backed by the Latvian Trade Union of Public Service and Transport Workers (LAKRS), demanded higher wages and the company could not meet the demands. Further action was organised at national level near the Ministry of Communication on 4 October. [5]

On 28 September, workers from social assistance service institutions announced an eight-hour hunger strike. [6] The strike was because their wages did not change as part of recent important wage increases in the health sector, and remain extremely low in relation to the specialist nature of their work. If their voices are not heard via the hunger strike, the workers are ready to take further industrial action.

General agreement in construction sector

The Partnership of Latvian Construction Entrepreneurs has collected the number of supporters needed to sign a general agreement for the construction sector. The agreement sets a minimum wage for the construction sector of €780.

By 13 September, 278 construction sector enterprises with a total turnover of €718 million supported the signing of the agreement. Līga Meņģelsone, Director General of the Employer’s Confederation of Latvia (LDDK) and Egīls Baldzēns, President of the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS), both expressed their support.

This positive step in the development of sector-level bargaining was possible due to financial support from the European Social Fund (ESF) and amendments to local legislation. The most important impact came from amendments to the labour law that envisage 50% extra pay for overtime work instead of the existing 100%. This will be implemented first in the construction sector.

Commentary

The unusually high level of social dialogue activity in Q3 was likely due to politicians setting out their promises ahead of the elections.

Successful negotiations in the education and healthcare sectors in 2017–2018 demonstrated that well-planned, long-term activities from social partners are fruitful, and encourage other trade unions to demonstrate their demands. Social partners also use improving economic conditions as motivation.

The next quarter is likely to be devoted to the development of the state budget. This process will show whether given promises are fulfilled and what the reaction of social partners will be.

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