Collective agreement register and archive proposed

In 2003, a project under the EU's PHARE programme, aimed at improving social dialogue in Slovenia, recommended the establishment of a state register and archive of collective agreements. The idea is that this would enable a much clear picture to be obtained of the situation and development of collective bargaining, with a variety of benefits ensuing.

The issue of establishing a register and archive of collective agreements in Slovenia has been raised by a number of commentators recently. There is a view that the more differentiated and flexible collective bargaining becomes in the course of globalisation and increased international competition, the more important it is to have a full overview of the whole collective agreement situation and the trends in this area. This is seen as particularly true at present in Slovenia, where significant shifts are occurring in the industrial relations system. The establishment of a collective agreement register/archive is regarded as a prerequisite for obtaining such an overview. Proponents of such a system believes that it is important that the state establishes and maintains the register/archive, thus providing a reliable and permanent database and a complete overview of all agreements, as well as their essential provisions.

Governments in a number of other countries give support to, or themselves engage directly in, activities aimed at improving the functioning of collective bargaining through guidance, information and other forms of assistance to the social partners. This includes improving the information available to the social partners and for the governments' own use. This is necessarily a long-run venture, and has been described as an investment in industrial peace, although the results are rarely immediate and dramatic (see Collective bargaining in industrialised market economies: A reappraisal, JP Windmuller et al, ILO, 1987).

Some observers and participants see an urgent need to reform the whole collective bargaining system in Slovenia, especially in the private sector, and believe that a change in the legal framework (SI0212101F) is not sufficient for such an overhaul. Although collective bargaining in the private sector is a matter for the social partners concerned, advocates of change suggest that they and the government could jointly commission an in-depth study of the bargaining system and contribute to it in order to provide a sound foundation for reform. Such a study would be much easier to carry out with the help of a register/archive of agreements, which would also be of great help to university teachers, researchers and students and promote research in this field. In the area of research and information, it is regarded as necessary for the government to go beyond fact-gathering by providing high-quality analyses of important issues and undertaking or commissioning in-depth studies of the entire national industrial relations system or of certain key areas.

Another factor is that Slovenia will join the EU in May 2004 and various European institutions and organisations - such as the European Commission, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (and EIRO in particular) and the European Trade Union Confederation- are thus demanding more and more information and analyses on Slovenian industrial relations and collective bargaining on a regular basis (such as the number of collective agreements negotiated each year at various levels, bargaining coverage and the contents of collective agreements). This information would, it is argued, be much more reliable and easier to obtain if a register/archive of agreements were established.

Current situation

The current main ways of collecting data on collective agreements in Slovenia are set out below.

Registration at MDDSZ

According to a 1990 Instruction on the Registration of Collective Agreements, issued by the minister for labour, higher-level collective agreements - those concluded for the whole country, whether general/cross-sectoral, for separate sectors or for individual occupations - must be forwarded to the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (Ministrstvo za delo, družino in socialne zadeve, MDDSZ) . The Ministry registers the agreements and publishes them in the Official Gazette, but they are not analysed.

As of January 2004, 38 such national agreements were registered at MDDSZ. Two of them are general or cross-sectoral: the general collective agreement for private sector, first registered in 1990; and the general collective agreement for the public sector (mostly public services), first registered in 1991. Two of the registered agreements concern individual occupations: the collective agreement for professional journalists, first registered in 1991; and the collective agreement for doctors and dentists, first registered in 1994.

The remaining 34 collective agreements are sectoral or subsectoral. Five of them are in the public sector and 29 in the private sector. In 2003, only one new sectoral collective agreement was concluded, that for post and courier activities, concluded on 15 May 2003 (taking into account the new Law on Labour Relations - SI0206101N). On the basis of this sectoral agreement, a new collective agreement for the Slovenian Post Office was concluded and came into force on 1 September 2003. Legally, this is company collective agreement and therefore not registered, although in fact it covers the whole subsector. There is no difference between the 'starting pay' provisions (see below) of these two collective agreements and differences concerns non-pay issues only.

Under the ministerial instruction, company collective agreements (and in theory collective agreements concluded for one or more municipalities, though such agreements do not exist in practice) must be forwarded to the competent municipal administrative body, which registers them. However, after this instruction was issued a municipal reform took place and municipalities became much smaller. Therefore, company collective agreements should now be sent to the relevant state administrative units, covering the territory of the former municipalities, for registration. These agreements are not published. It is estimated that several thousand company collective bargaining agreements have been signed. However, attempts to collect and evaluate as many of these agreements as possible, made under an EU PHARE project (see below), revealed that the relevant state administrative units have registered hardly any company collective agreements. A survey of more than a half of the administrative units, covering more than two-thirds of the Slovenian population, has shown that the duty to register agreements is partly unknown, and where it is known, there is a decreasing number of registrations. In parallel to this survey of administrative units, the PHARE project also surveyed larger companies and found that the duty to register agreements is in part unknown and therefore not complied with.

Private sector 'starting pay' records

In Slovenia, the pay formation process is quite complex and therefore lacks transparency. First, there is a national statutory minimum wage, set by law. Next there are tripartite 'social agreements' and tripartite pay agreements in which increases in basic and minimum pay are determined (SI0206102F). These are followed by three hierarchical levels of collective agreements: intersectoral or general agreements; sectoral agreements and agreements for certain professions (eg doctors and journalists); and finally company agreements.

All collective agreements for the private sector lay down nine pay categories of jobs on the basis of their requirements, so that differences in pay relate to differences in job requirements. Job requirements are determined regarding the level of education required to perform a certain job. These nine categories are known as 'tariff classes'. For each tariff class, the so-called 'starting pay' is determined. The first tariff class (simple tasks or work) represents those jobs which require not even completed primary education and has the lowest starting pay. The ninth tariff class (exceptionally important and most demanding work) represents those jobs which require doctoral degrees as a rule. In each company, the various jobs are classified into the nine tariff classes.

The Slovenian Employers' Association (Zdruzenje delodajalcev Slovenije, ZDS) (SI0211102F) maintains and regularly updates 'starting pay records' concerning all nine tariff classes, as laid down in the private sector's 29 sectoral and subsectoral collective agreements. These records are published on the website of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Slovenia (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije, GZS). Similar starting pay records can be found on the website of the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) (SI0210102F). These records list the collective agreements according to the 'standard classification of activities', giving the name of the collective agreement and the starting pay for the nine tariff classes for the current month, plus the number of the Official Gazette in which the agreement was published.

A major problem is that the minimum wage rate determined by law is higher than the starting pay in the lowest tariff classes set by agreement. For example, in the abovementioned 2003 collective agreement for post and courier activities, the starting pay for the first four lowest tariff classes is below the statutory minimum wage rate. Therefore, these four tariff classes are squeezed into one tariff class where the starting pay is the statutory minimum wage. This is regarded as one of the most important signs of a crisis of the collective bargaining system in Slovenia. This situation presents a significant problem for the calculation of indicators such as average collectively agreed pay increases. However, for the past two years increases in the minimum wage and starting pay have been determined by central tripartite pay policy agreement only (SI0206102F) and the agreed percentage increases can be used for the calculation of collectively agreed pay increases in the private sector.

Proposal for a collective agreement register/archive

Because of the abovementioned problems and new demands for information, an EU PHARE project on 'the enhancement and development of social dialogue in Slovenia' has recently recommended establishing a register/archive of collective agreements.

The PHARE project's first recommendation in this area is to provide in the new Law on Collective Agreements (LCA), which is in preparation, that all collective agreements must be sent to MDDSZ for registration. It is suggested that the present differentiation between various levels of registration should be dropped, as it has not proved successful in practice.

Such provisions in the new LCA are seen as a prerequisite for the establishment of a register/archive which would significantly improve knowledge about collective agreements in general, and company agreements in particular, and enable an evaluation. In order to be able to evaluate already signed but not registered company collective agreements, it is recommended that the parties be reminded of their duties in an appropriate manner and urged to submit these collective agreements (this time to MDDSZ).

Benefits of a collective agreement register/archive

State collective agreement registers/archives allow the maintenance of a permanent and complete overview of all collective agreements, as well as their essential provisions. According to proponents, a register/archive would create a reliable database, which would:

  • inform the overall pay statistics (eg collectively agreed pay in relation to actual earnings) required for economic analyses (pay, wage drift, industry or sectoral comparisons, comparative international pay developments etc);
  • inform the rulings of industrial and pension tribunals in disputes between employees and employers about the interpretation of employment contracts and collective agreements;
  • enable the provision of information and advice - for example, the most important basic data on collective agreements' provisions on matters such as pay could be made available on a website for a broad user group;
  • assist the parties to collective agreements, who could identify needs for action and plan bargaining in their own sector, on the basis of developments in other sectors;
  • help develop labour and social welfare legislation (eg on pensions, pensioners' part-time work, minimum pay policies, training/social security funds etc);
  • assist with regional structural policy (promotion of trade, state-guaranteed securities etc), based on information on the provisions of company collective agreements in relation to those in sectoral and intersectoral agreements; and
  • check whether regulations are being adhered to in agreements.

Advocates of the new system claim that sectoral collective bargaining creates beneficial competition between sectors to find innovative solutions, and that this competition is promoted by the highest degree of transparency. A collective agreement register/archive and its analyses would contribute to this transparency.

Organisation and working method

Based on the practical experience of the PHARE project experts with the system of registration in Germany, the following proposal has been drawn up for a Slovenian collective agreement register/archive.

The prerequisite for the establishment of such a register/archive is a legal regulation determining that the parties to collective agreements must forward newly signed collective agreements, plus termination notices etc, to the collective agreement register/archive. The register/archive would checks the documents for completeness, whether originals or certified copies are available and whether the parties to the collective agreement and the finalisation date are specified in full. The system should allow tracking of whether a follow-on agreement has been signed if a new agreement is not submitted within a certain period after expiry of the old registered collective agreement (eg due to an omission by the parties).

The incoming collective agreements would be registered and archived, distinguishing between sectoral agreements and company agreements. Valid collective agreements would be filed separately from agreements which have been invalidated and replaced. If necessary, files would be further subdivided into sections for the various types of agreements (wage and salary, holiday, other regulations etc). During registration, the agreements would be recorded according to the following characteristics: collective bargaining area; type; date of signature, signatory trade union.

Evaluation

The number of collective agreements should be recorded in tables at the end of each year, providing information on:

  • collective agreements registered throughout the year;
  • collective agreements valid at the end of the year;
  • sectoral and company agreements;
  • economic groups and types; and
  • termination dates.

The contents of agreements should be evaluated, covering matters such as: working time; annual leave; additional holidays; and annual bonuses. The contents of lower-level agreements currently mainly follow the provisions of cross-sectoral general collective agreements, and there is little differentiation. When collective agreements become more differentiated, the evaluation scheme should be supplemented with new categories, for example if agreements in future start to deal with matters such as equal opportunities, working time 'corridors', working time accounts, flexi-time or pension funds.

The register/archive should issue annual publications, setting out data on the situation and current trends. In addition, it should also continuously provide current data and analysis on agreements. After a start-up period, the register/archive would also be able to answer queries from legislators allowing them to assess whether and how legal regulations should be made or whether the collective bargaining parties should act autonomously.

Regarding the design of the register/archive, a 1926 resolution concerning statistics on collective agreements adopted by the ILO's Third International Conference of Labour Statisticians is also seen as being relevant.

Commentary

In this context, it should be noted that Slovenian workers enjoy strong participation rights and that 'participative agreements'- which are not collective agreements proper - may be agreed by management and employees' councils at company level (SI0311102F). This is a channel through which workers can influence matters such as company restructuring and job security, which are issues covered by collective agreements in some other countries. Therefore a similar register/archive or database of such agreements and participative practices should also be established. Indeed, the government should establish reliable databases covering other areas of industrial relations too (eg strikes and accidents at work).

The PHARE project proposes that the collective agreements register/archive should be established within the framework of MDDSZ. However, it is unlikely that the Ministry is capable of providing sufficient financial and expert resources to establish and run such a register/archive in the form and to the extent proposed. The budgetary resources for such tasks are scarce and diminishing due to the present economic situation and MDDSZ's experts are overburdened with the work connected with the entry of Slovenia into the EU. However, this should not serve as an excuse completely to reject the proposal, which could be realised modestly at the beginning and then expanded more ambitiously when circumstances improve. (Stefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development, IMAD)

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