Working conditions and social dialogue — Czech Republic

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 02 April 2008

Ondej Novk

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Separate research into the influence of social dialogue on working conditions (with particular emphasis on occupational health and safety) has not been conducted in the Czech Republic. That particularly applies to qualitative surveys, which, as a rule, merely complement quantitative research. Research into occupational health and safety does not usually look at links to social dialogue as well. This issue has only partially been covered by the surveys done to date, and these questions usually form merely a minor part of the research topic. Generally, the social partners rate social dialogue positively as a means of regulating working conditions and regard its basis in law as sufficient. However, the expansion of social dialogue is hindered by some obstacles that representatives of trade unions as well as employer organisations have pointed out.

A. Mapping of existing research and administrative reports

Please limit your answers to this first section on mapping (questions 1 to 3) to 2,500 words.

Please identify the most relevant research in your country that identifies and / or analyses the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue. This could include surveys that look at working conditions in sectors/enterprises with and without collective agreements. Please note that we are only interested in research where a relationship between working conditions and social dialogue is discussed, rather than just statistics on collective agreements. Please examine recent research, ideally since 2000.

1. Surveys

Present a summary of the survey(s), its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research

1. Means and Effectiveness of Mediating Interests among Individuals, Social Groups and the State; Modern Society and Its Transformations (2003), RILSA and Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. (Způsoby a efektivnost zprostředkování zájmů mezi jedinci, sociálními skupinami a státem; Moderní společnost a její proměny. In Czech PDF 1.4 MB,

This broad research project comprised the following surveys:

a) Workforce 2003, Public Opinion Research Centre for RILSA and the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (2003).

This empirical survey comprised 1009 persons representing employees over the age of 15 in the Czech Republic. The respondents were chosen using a quota selection based on the characteristics of region, size of municipality, gender, age and education. Standardised, questionnaire-based interviews with respondents were carried out by questioners; only persons in employment were interviewed (e.g. not the self-employed).

The survey focused on employees’ opinions of trade unions. It was seen that, among other things, trade union members and non-members alike have a predominantly positive view of the commitments negotiated in enterprise-level collective agreements, particularly as regards working time, leave, occupational health and safety and employee benefits. Negotiated commitments are seen as absolutely satisfactory or rather satisfactory by 80-90% of trade union members and slightly fewer non-members (65-80%). Trade union members as well as non-members are less satisfied with negotiated commitments regarding the level of wages and there is not significant difference between their opinions. Only less then 60% of them view commitments as absolutely satisfactory or rather satisfactory. Another finding was that employees regard efforts to improve working conditions and the working environment as the trade unions’ priority activity.

b) “50 50”, STEM/MARK agency for RILSA and the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (2003).

Of a total of 106 respondents in the survey, 52 were human resources professionals and personnel managers, and 54 were trade union officials from enterprises operating in the primary, secondary and tertiary sector – this was a deliberate selection. Questioners carried out standardised, questionnaire-based interviews with respondents.

The research was intended to map opinions among enterprise-level trade union representatives and personnel managers on the conduct of social dialogue at enterprise level. The survey’s conclusions showed that personnel managers and trade unions concur in their evaluation of the priority areas that enterprise-level trade unions should address. These include overseeing occupational health and safety (along with collective bargaining, pushing for wage growth, monitoring compliance with the labour legislation). Both groups also identify the trade unions’ health and safety control powers as one of the most important ways of promoting employees’ interests in the workplace. The legislation on this area of trade union rights is currently a topic of dispute between the social partners – and experts – in the Czech Republic. Trade unions get contribution towards their costs with providing health and safety control from the state. The dispute is on amount of money as well as on questions who should get and who should give money (state, employers, trade unions).

2. Quality of Working Life. International sociological survey in electrical engineering industry plants (2006; data from 2000), RILSA and the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

This was a comparative, standardised questionnaire-based survey performed in 15 countries. It took place in three stages: 1984-85, 1994-96, 1999-2001. The selection of respondents was a two-step process: first an enterprise was selected, then the enterprise’s employees (for the 1999-2001 survey the scope was reduced to two major employers and the selection of respondents was limited to 300 employees of these employers). The group of countries targeted by the research changed during the various stages and political and economic developments (developments in industry, restructuring, globalisation) also prevented the use of a single methodological procedure. It is therefore difficult to compare the acquired data; and their statistical representativeness is also debatable. As it was a comparative survey, the results do not only concern the Czech Republic.

The survey’s principal thematic focus was changes in working conditions; the survey was based on employees’ opinions on their working life and work relationships. It covered a broad range of areas (e.g. the nature and organisation of flexible forms of employment, work satisfaction, gender equality, changes in the role of the trade unions, and more). The survey’s principal results do not directly concern the influence of social dialogue on working conditions (one of the survey’s outputs is the finding that trade union members in the Czech Republic – and in Slovakia – have greater confidence in trade union officials’ ability to negotiate better working conditions than in other states, bar France).

Present, where relevant, the exact wording of the questions that address the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue

This section could also include secondary analyses based on survey data

1 a) Workforce 2003, examples of some questions:

Do you think that trade unions try to improve working conditions? (rated on a 4-point scale from absolutely agree to absolutely do not agree).

Do you think that trade unions try to make your employer improve the working environment? (rated on a 4-point scale from absolutely agree to absolutely do not agree).

How would you assess the commitments that trade unions managed to negotiate in the collective agreement with your employer (rated on a 4-point scale from absolutely satisfactory to absolutely unsatisfactory):

in the field of employee benefits

in the field of working time

in the field of work safety

in the field of holiday and working leave

in the field of wages?

What areas should trade unions pay most attention to and what do they not need to pay attention to (ranking the 16 suggested areas in order of importance):

supervision of occupational health and safety

conducting collective bargaining

protection against dismissal

care for pensioners

assistance to the unemployed

pushing for wage growth

support for the firm’s prosperity

offering and providing re-training

promoting rationalisation changes and modernisation of company management

arranging employees’ recreation

monitoring the employer’s compliance with the labour code

organising leisure activities

providing social aid, benefits, loans where necessary

providing legal advice in labour matters alone

providing legal advice in non-labour matters

cooperating the employer in managing the firm, e.g. trade union participation on companies’ supervisory boards


2. Quality of Working Life, examples of some questions:

Who, in your opinion, best represents your interests in the following areas:

  working conditions occupa- tional health and safety training and raising qualifi- cations earnings social benefits work organisa- tion overtime work conditions transferring and assignment of employees possibility of career progress
manage- ment                  
trade union organi- sation                  
direct superior                  
no one                  

How do you assess trade unions’ influence on decision-making in the following areas (rated on a 5-point scale from “very important” to “totally unimportant”)?

job security and protection

reduced working time

scope of work and work procedures

holiday and work leave

wage increases

social services and benefits provided by the employer

education and training

work organisation and production technologies

high-risk work and occupational illnesses

transferring employees to other workplaces within a company

increasing influence on corporate management strategy.

Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?

Research within individual sectors is not available (with the exception of a survey in the electrical engineering industry: Quality of Working Life. International sociological survey in electrical engineering industry plants (2006; data from 2000), RILSA and the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic; but this did not directly relate to the influence of social dialogue on working conditions). These surveys were wider in scope and were not sector-specific (on the contrary, they seek to obtain representative data cutting across sectors). Irrespective of the sectoral aspect, no surveys in the Czech Republic regarding the influence of social dialogue on working conditions have been carried out (RILSA, in cooperation with the STEM/MARK agency, for example, did perform sectoral surveys, but these focused on certain specific issues of social dialogue and collective bargaining in the selected sectors).

2. Qualitative research

This section could include case studies and specific research work

Present a summary of the research, its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research

Means and Effectiveness of Mediating Interests among Individuals, Social Groups and the State; Modern Society and Its Transformations (2003). Survey of the Position of Trade Unions, performed by STEM/MARK agency for RILSA.

The survey was conducted as part of comprehensive research combining qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methodologies. The trade unions formed one of the research blocks, which included a qualitative survey. This empirical survey consisted of three focus groups, made up of 28 human resources professionals, personnel managers and trade union officials from enterprises. The discussion groups were organised in various regions and the average duration of the focus groups did not exceed two hours. The discussion was videoed for analysis. The research did not focus directly on aspects of the relationship between social dialogue and working conditions, but some parts of it are relevant.

The key findings included the fact that personnel managers as well as trade union officials both regard occupational health and safety, working conditions and work organisation as the traditional priorities of trade unions. The priority areas for trade unions are thought to be protecting employees’ interests, as well as communicating employees’ needs to management and mediating dialogue between management and workforce, and also collective bargaining and initiating changes to benefit employees.

Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?

As mentioned above, no sector-specific surveys with the required focus are available. Modern Society and Its Transformations covered a broader scope with a view to providing findings cutting across sectors.

3. Administrative reports

Public reports, such as reports from the health and safety authority or labour inspectorate, including reports drawn up by consultancy firms made on demand and financed by public authorities may be a relevant source of information on the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue

Do reports from Labour Inspectorate / Health and Safety Authorities exist where the absence of dialogue between the two sides of industry on OHS matters is mentioned? (present the findings briefly)

Work inspectorates do not deal with social dialogue in detail in their reports. They do state, however, that cooperation with the trade unions is mutually beneficial, primarily in the area of labour law and when resolving complaints from employees of large firms or companies under foreign control (there are usually no trade unions in small firms and compliance with occupational health and safety standards is usually worse in these firms).

Is there predominance in a certain sector?


When so, mention the five most quoted sectors.

The role of Labour Inspectorate in an advice / information role to get the social dialogue going whether establishment-specific or not.

The competence of the Work Inspectorate is governed by law (this authority performs control functions) (CZ0606019I). The Work Inspectorate is authorised to inspect compliance with the legal relations establishing rights and obligations in labour relations for employers, employees, the appropriate trade union body or works’ council, and for occupational health and safety representatives. This control body can also monitor compliance with collective agreements and employers’ internal regulations where these relate to employees’ personal labour entitlements (rights) in conformity with the law. Seeing that work inspectorates were established as a separate authority relatively recently (2005), their role with regard to social dialogue in practice is still taking shape. Nevertheless, they carry out a basic notification function and, in cases where employers refuse to negotiate with trade unions, draw attention to the obligation to enter into negotiations. However, they do not have – in their own legal opinion – the authority to force employers to undertake collective bargaining. The trade unions’ only option is therefore to force employers to conduct collective bargaining through the courts. In practise, trade unions do not take this opportunity; it would be very long procedure.

Is the gender aspect taken up in OHS, is it taken up in the OHS social dialogue, who puts it on the agenda and what is its outcome, if any?

Although the Work Inspectorates do not avoid gender issues in their work, they do not pay particular attention to gender in the context of social dialogue.

B. Actual examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions

The objective of this section of the CAR is to find out the views of the social partners on the influence of social dialogue on working conditions and to report real-life examples of where social dialogue has had an influence on working conditions. Our focus is on the “success stories”, where there has been a positive and reported outcome, but we would also welcome “failure stories” where, for whatever reason, social dialogue either broke down or did not have the desired influence on working conditions, or a particular intervention was tried and failed. Bear in mind that failure stories may be under-reported and success stories may be over-reported.

Please limit your answers to this second section (questions 4 and 5) to 2,500 words. National centres are asked to report at least two, but no more than four, cases in this framework. Please report, where possible, cases that are considered to be typical for your country.

4. Examples of social dialogue

Please ask the social partners in your country for what they consider to be successful or unsuccessful examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions and the criteria on which they make these judgements. This section could also include social partner views on which case studies are representative of the situation in your country.

The reporting for this section of the CAR should include:

The actors involved;

A description of the issue;

The level (national, sectoral, company, other). For example, there might be some evidence of sector-level experience transferring down successfully to company-level experience; and

The outcomes. If the intervention was a success, please list the success factors. If the intervention was not a success, please list the reasons or presumed reasons, why it was not a success.

The results of any relevant research findings.

1. Supermarket firm PLUS Discount, s.r.o., versus basic enterprise-level trade union organisation (member organisation of the Trade Union of Workers in Commerce – Odborový svaz pracovníků obchodu, OSPO).

PLUS Discount s.r.o., which belongs to the Tengelmann chain, runs a network of stores in the Czech Republic. The trade union organisation of the Trade Union of Workers in Commerce at PLUS Discount was established in July 2004; the unions presented their first draft collective agreement to the employer in September 2004. The first round of collective bargaining took place in November that year (without success). In February 2005 the trade union organisation sent the employer a new draft of the enterprise-level collective agreement incorporating the employees’ latest comments. Instead of negotiating on the new draft agreement, the employer moved to terminate the employment of officials of the trade union organisation, in some cases offering large severance payouts.

In September 2005, the biggest trade union federation in the Czech Republic, the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS), which OSPO is a member of, held a press conference on the subject of PLUS Discount management’s treatment of the trade union organisation. A meeting between ČMKOS and OSPO representatives and the German embassy in Prague took place at the end of 2005. As the trade unions found no change in the company management’s treatment of employees, the trade union organisation at PLUS Discount decided to hold a demonstration in front of the company’s store in Most, North Bohemia, in August 2006 to protest against the “undignified conditions and the employer’s violations of employees’ rights” as stated. The demonstration was supported by ČMKOS and the Confederation of German Trade Unions DGB. The demonstration by staff of the PLUS Discount supermarket chain brought results, and an enterprise-level collective agreement was concluded (CZ0609029I).

In 2007, employees’ complaints were heard again, mainly regarding undignified working conditions and non-payment for the full extent of hours worked. The trade unions have demanded the dismissal of the company’s managers, otherwise they will go on strike. So, although the trade unions had previously attained – with support from OSPO, ČMKOS and the Confederation of German Trade Unions DGB – the signing of an enterprise-level collective agreement, there is still conflict between the employer and employees. This example of labour relations at company level is not typical for the Czech Republic, but it does reflect the situation primarily in the retail sector, particularly as regards working conditions in certain supermarkets (CZ0702049I). It should also be added that certain foreign-owned companies – and not just in the retail sector – refuse to take part in social dialogue at sectoral level, do not join existing sectoral organisational structures and thus avoid being covered by concluded higher-level collective agreements (original Czech owned companies often join sectoral organisational structures).

Czech Republic Case study 2: Vicious circle in a supermarket – labour shortages, fast working rhythms and high turnover. In The evolving world of work in the enlarged EU, International Labour Office (2007)

This case study dealt with the working conditions of employees of a supermarket that is part of a retail chain belonging to a foreign owner. The study draws attention to, among other things, the scale of trade union membership, including in connection with substantial workforce fluctuations. It also draws attention to the fact that legally defined working time limits are overstepped and the legally required time-off between individual shifts is not observed, overtime is not paid (including the practice of dual reporting of hours worked, where the statements do not correspond to the fact), and low wages.

2. Another example from company level is the dispute between the Czech Metalworkers Federation (OS KOVO) and Škoda Auto. We mention this example because of the motor works’ importance for the Czech economy and because OS KOVO is the biggest trade union in the Czech Republic. The case is testimony to the fact that wages tend to be the biggest problem between trade unions and employers. At the start of negotiations the trade unions had difficulty asserting some of their demands concerning working conditions (in particular working time and the size of total social costs); consensus between the employer and trade union organisation was in the end reached in this area, without the unions needing to move to coercive action. However, negotiations on wage issues and employee benefits (e.g. contribution to pension insurance) were not successful and led to the trade unions organising a strike in the enterprise (CZ0703029I).

Collective bargaining on the conclusion of an enterprise-level collective agreement took place from December 2006 to April 2007; at the end of January 2007, negotiations on wages and wage bonuses also started. The employer wanted to make a change to the existing wage system, which the trade unions did not agree with; another point of contention was the duration of the validity of the wage part of the collective agreement. At the start of April 2007, after eight unsuccessful rounds of wage bargaining, the trade unions declared a strike alert; the management responded by, among other things, threatening to relocate production. The trade unions responded with a protest action (strike) against the employer’s threats and to demand wage bargaining; the strike took the form of a temporary down-tools in all operational establishments in turn. Shortly afterwards, however, the social partners at the enterprise reached consensus in the disputed matters and concluded a collective agreement; in the end, both sides declared themselves satisfied with the agreement and claimed it as their victory. The public saw the resolution of the matter largely as a success for the trade unions, however. The main reason that the trade unions succeeded in this dispute that received close media coverage was the fact that the trade union organisation at the enterprise gained the effective support of the trade union and national federation (Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, ČMKOS), and, most notably, the support of the vast majority of employees of the motor works. However, it proved impossible to increase the employer’s original wage growth proposals, unless the motor works could create the right conditions and earnings to accommodate these extra costs.

The signing of an enterprise-level collective agreement in Auto Škoda can be considered a successful resolution of the previous conflict between employer and trade unions, all the more because the auto industry is one of the sectors where it has so far proved impossible to conclude a higher-level collective agreement.

5. Social partner views

Please ask the social partners in your country for their general views on the type, nature and quality of the social dialogue in your country in terms of its influence on working conditions. This could include, for example, their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the social dialogue, as it is organised in your country, as a tool for improving working conditions. Please report who you have contacted and in what form. The level of organisation (confederation, federation) that is relevant may differ between countries, although it is most likely that the organisation to be contacted will be a peak organisation.

Collective bargaining is governed by the labour code and the act on collective bargaining (social dialogue in the broader sense is not governed by law). On 1 January 2007 a new labour code took effect (CZ0511101F, CZ0610049I, CZ0610029I, CZ0706029I, CZ0605029I, CZ0610059I): it creates greater room for collective bargaining. It is mainly trade union organisations that are satisfied with the new labour legislation; employer representatives and smaller trade unions are critical of the new labour code (CZ0604019I). The smaller (even with national representativness) trade union formations’ reservations mainly concern the rules on trade union plurality, i.e. when two or more trade union organisations operate at the same employer. Under the new labour code, if trade union organisations at enterprise level cannot agree on a common procedure, that enables the employer to conclude a collective agreement with the trade union organisation that represents the biggest number of employees only. Employers complain about the insufficient liberalisation of the labour code and have reservations about extensions of higher-level collective agreements on the principle of belonging to a particular sector, defined on the basis of sectoral classification of the enterprise’s predominant activity (Sectoral Classification of Economic Activity – OKEČ, or NACE). Additionally, employers are not satisfied with the trade unions’ powers regarding compliance with occupational health and safety in firms. Among both trade unions and employers there are widely differing opinions on the question of the representation of interests of employees who are not trade union members (trade unions act on behalf of all employees, regardless of whether they are members or not).

Generally, the social partners rate social dialogue positively as a means of regulating working conditions and regard its basis in law as sufficient (however, a number of employers in the Czech Republic reject social dialogue as a method of mediating interests, either on principle or with regard to the existing legislation on labour relations and collective bargaining). However, the expansion of social dialogue is hindered by some obstacles that representatives of both sides have pointed out. The public is not sufficiently informed about the importance and results of social dialogue at all levels; and the difficult enforceability of the commitments in collective agreements has for long been viewed as a problem in the Czech Republic. There has been a long-term decline in trade union membership; in some sectors the financing of the work of employer organisations that lack sufficient professionals is also a problem. Employers often see no pressing reason to form or join organisations, which consequently limits the representativeness of certain organisations. It is mainly foreign-controlled firms that do not join employer organisations; in smaller firms there is often no trade union organisation.

Note: RILSA has for long had working contacts with a number of trade union and employer organisations and with the national federations of the social partners in the Czech Republic. Several surveys concerning the capacity of social dialogue, the role and significance of higher-level collective agreements et al. have recently been conducted. Additionally, some previous papers in the EIRO database that we refer to deal with the questions asked here or some aspects of them. For that reason, it was not necessary to question trade union officials or employer association representatives for this material specially – we already possessed the required information.

Ondřej Novák, Výzkumný ústav práce a sociálních věcí, v.v.i., RILSA

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