Tripartite partnership institutions examined

In Lithuania, tripartite partnership involving the government, trade unions and employers' organisations (particularly at national level) is much more developed than bipartite relations between employers and unions. This article examines, as of early 2005, the main national forum, the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania, and the relatively extensive network of tripartite bodies dealing with specific issues such as social insurance and the labour market.

The history of independent Lithuanian trade unions and employers’ organisations is relatively short. Though trade union density during the Soviet period was very high (almost all employees were union members), Lithuanian unions began to play a more substantial role in industrial relations only after the reconstitution of independent Lithuania. During the Soviet period, the government was the only employer and independent employers’ organisations were not established until after 1990 (LT0410102F). Due to this situation and the fact that trade unions are at present relatively weak (LT0412102F), while employers’ organisations usually appear reluctant to engage in wider social issues, bipartite social dialogue in Lithuania is still weak. Therefore, the government plays a relatively active role and the social dialogue in Lithuania is being developed 'from the top down', which means that in general:

  • tripartite (usually at national level) relations are much more developed (and thus have a stronger impact on policy-making) than bipartite ones; and
  • various agreements/settlements are signed/concluded on the basis of legislation instead of being developed as a consequence of any bipartite negotiations.

Background

It was in 1990-1 was the formation of a new system of social partner organisations began in Lithuania. The first steps were very difficult, as trade unions, collective labour relations and involvement of employees in business management were regarded in some circles as elements of the former socialist production-management system and thus unsuitable for the market economy. Economic, social, legal and other developments reduced the influence of trade unions over social and economic issues and, in particular, at company level. Some of these circumstances remain unchanged today. Despite this situation, some trade unions managed to survive and the basis of contemporary trade unionism in Lithuania is formed by 'old' trade unions that have been renovated to a large degree and adapted to the present situation.

The establishment of employers’ organisations in Lithuania was primarily related to the wish of employers to represent and defend their own business interests, with the government seen as the key partner (as is still largely the case today). According to some commentators, the development of bilateral relations between employers and employees indicates - with some exceptions - that employers currently do not see employees as equal partners, and it it claimed that the interests of capital prevail over those of labour or social partnership. However, it should be noted that the social partnership situation is to some extent different in large companies, and especially ones with foreign ownership, where 'western' investments have brought different attitudes towards relations between employers and employees and social partnership. These companies account for the majority of collective agreements that provide more favourable working conditions for employees. The situation is also different in the areas of employment covered by the state budget and in state enterprises, where strong trade unions have traditionally existed - examples include the education system and the railways. The state as an employer is seen as a more favourable partner for unions/employees that private employers, and in particular small-scale ones.

Given this situation, which is generally unfavourable to the development of trade unions and social partnership, Lithuanian trade unions sought to obtain support from the government and to initiate tripartite cooperation. Believing in the importance of social dialogue in a democratic society, the government supported this trade union initiative. A number of tripartite institutions have been established and tripartite agreements signed since 1991, following this trade union initiative supported by the government,

Lithuania now has a number of tripartite councils and commissions, most of which have specialised roles. The majority operate at national level, though some have extended their activities to regional level as well. The most important forum is the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Trišalė taryba, LRTT), which has a tangible effect on national social and economic policy and development of employment relations.

Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania

The LRTT was established in 1995 following an agreement on tripartite partnership signed by the government, trade unions and employers’ organisations, in line with the provisions of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No.144 on 'tripartite consultations to promote the implementation of international labour standards'.

The LRTT is based on the principle of equal tripartite partnership, and seeks to tackle social, economic and labour problems by mutual agreement, thus promoting social harmony. The Council acts in compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, the Labour Code, other legislation and its own rules. The basic principles of LRTT's activities involve equality of rights of the parties, regular activities, joint consensus in decision-making and the recommendatory nature of decisions for the parties. The LRTT is made up of representatives of trade unions, employers’ organisations and the government. The maximum number of members of the Council may not exceed 15 (ie not more than five representatives from each party). The permanent members of the Tripartite Council are representatives of the following:

Members of the LRTT receive no remuneration for their work in the Council. They are to report on this work to the parties that delegated them to the LRTT. The head office of the LRTT is at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. The organisational work related to the LRTT is carried out by its secretariat, a 'budgetary institution' established on 1 May 1995 within this Ministry. The secretariat is led by the LRTT's secretary, who is appointed and discharged by the Minister of Social Security and Labour on the proposal of the LRTT. The LRTT secretariat is financed from the national budget.

The main functions of the LRTT are to:

  • analyse social, economic and labour problems and submit recommendations on the resolution of such problems;
  • discuss existing laws and drafts of legislation in the social, economic and labour sphere, and draw conclusions and make proposals to parliament and the government;
  • analyse the possibilities of using bipartite and tripartite partnership in resolving various social, economic and labour issues, and make recommendations to the parties on the expansion of social partnership;
  • draft an annual tripartite agreement concerning social, economic and labour issues (signed by the authorised representatives of the government, trade unions and employers’ organisations);
  • when necessary, coordinate the activities of other bipartite and tripartite institutions in the social, economic and labour sphere;
  • discuss questions falling under ILO Convention No.144 and make related decisions; and
  • inform the parties and society more widely about its activities.

In exercising these functions, the Council has the following rights:

  • to draw up decisions, conclusions and recommendations within the limits of its competence;
  • to receive all information necessary for its functioning;
  • to convene sittings and hear representatives of the parties and experts on issues falling under their competence; and
  • when necessary, to coordinate the work of other bipartite and tripartite institutions in the social, economic and labour field.

The LRTT's chair is elected for a four-month term on the agreement of all parties. If unable to participate in a session, the chair delegates the role to another member of the same grouping (ie unions, employers or government) who is a member of the LRTT.

The parties must present draft documents and issues to be discussed at a session and other relevant information to the LRTT secretariat at least 10 days before the session. Not later than seven days before the sitting, the secretariat provides LRTT members with access to the material presented. An LRTT session is quorate only if attended by at least a half of the representatives of each party. If required to be absent for important reasons, a member of the LRTT may delegate another person to attend a session.

As mentioned, the Council reaches decisions only by agreement among all three parties. Differing opinions are reflected in the minutes of the session. The LRTT may agree to hold additional discussions on an issue, if no agreement is reached. LRTT sessions are held at least every two months (usually they are held monthly).

To discuss particular questions in depth, the LRTT may establish permanent or temporary tripartite commissions. There are currently four permanent tripartite commissions under the auspices of the LRTT, covering: labour relations; remuneration; employment and social guarantees; and tripartite consultations on the implementation of international labour standards. As at January 2005, there are two temporary commissions, dealing with: Labour Code addition and amendment issues (LT0412101N); and working out a draft project for social partnership measures in 2005-6. The members of the LRTT may participate in the work of any of these commissions.

Other tripartite institutions

Other tripartite/bipartite councils, commissions and committees may be established according to the procedure prescribed by special laws or collective agreements, in order to address and resolve issues relating to labour, employment, health and safety and social policy implementation, on the basis of tripartite/bipartite cooperation. The procedures and composition of the tripartite/bipartite bodies and their functions are established in their own regulations. In the cases stipulated by law, the government or signatories of collective agreements must approve the regulations. The current tripartite institutions are as follows.

  • The Council of the State Social Insurance Fund (Valstybinio socialinio draudimo fondo taryba, VSDFT) was established in 1991 on the basis of the Law on National Social Insurance. The VSDFT is comprised of 15 members representing insured people, employers and state authorities. The Council is chaired by the Minister of Social Security and Labour or an authorised VSDFT member. The Council monitors the progress of implementation of legislation governing social security, considers and issues opinions on the draft budget of the State Social Insurance Fund and monitors implementation thereof. In order to increase the role of social security 'stakeholders' in the system of state social insurance, in 1998 the VSDFT approved the creation of lower-level 'territorial' councils of the State Social Insurance Fund. These territorial councils are established at local sections of the board of the State Social Insurance Fund as public institutions.
  • The Tripartite Commission of the Lithuanian Labour Exchange (Trišalė Komisija prie Lietuvos darbo biržos, TKLDB) was established in 1991 on the basis of the Law on Employment of the Population (now the Law on Support for the Unemployed). The TKLDB is comprised of 15 members representing trade unions, employers’ organisations and the government (five representatives from each side). The Commission analyses changes in the Lithuanian labour market and makes recommendations to the Labour Exchange and Employment Council with regard to labour market policy implementation, use of the Employment Fund and funding of active labour market policy measures. Tripartite commissions have also been established at each of the 46 local labour exchanges, which analyse and resolve issues related to the implementation of labour market policy. Each of these local commissions is comprised of six or nine members.
  • The Commission on Employees’ Safety and Health (Darbuotojų saugos ir sveikatos komisija) was established in 1994 on the basis of the provisions of the Law on Human Safety at Work (now the Law on Employees’ Safety and Health). The Commission is involved in the formation and implementation of policy on safety at work, considering and making proposals related to laws and other regulations governing safety-related issues, and analysing the situation in this area. The tripartite Commission is comprised of 15 members. Its chair is elected on the principle of rotation from among its members. In 2002, following the adoption of a new Law on Employees’ Safety and Health, territorial tripartite commissions on employees’ safety and health were established in all 10 counties.
  • The Employment Council at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Užimtumo taryba prie Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministerijos) was established in 1996, based on the provisions of the Law on Support for the Unemployed. This Council deals with employment and factors having an effect on it. It also makes proposals aimed at improving the implementation of employment and labour market policy and approves the annual report on the use of the Employment Fund. The Employment Council has 15 members. The Minister of Social Security and Labour, or a member of the Council authorised by the Minister, chairs the Council.
  • The Expert Council of the Lithuanian Labour Market Training Authority (Ekspertų taryba prie Lietuvos Darbo rinkos mokymo tarnybos) was established in 1996. It has 15 members. The Council is a deliberative and monitoring body, whose key task is to assist in developing the system of labour market vocational training and counselling, and to improve its operation and interaction with the labour market. Six territorial tripartite expert commissions have been established at the territorial labour market training and and counselling offices.
  • The Lithuanian Council of Vocational Training (Lietuvos profesinio mokymo taryba, LPMT) was established in 1998, based on the provisions of the Law on Vocational Training. It is a deliberative body with consultative, expertise and coordination functions over strategic vocational training issues. The Council is made up of 18 members. The Ministry of Education and Science (Švietimo ir mokslo ministerija) is responsible for the operation of the LPMT.
  • The Council of the Guarantee Fund (Garantinio fondo taryba, GFT) was established in 2001, on the basis of the Law on the Guarantee Fund. The GFT manages the resources of the Guarantee Fund (ie funds assigned for benefits paid to employees of bankrupt companies), taking decisions as to the allocation of such funds, making recommendations to the government concerning the Fund's activities etc. The Council has 12 members. Its chair is appointed by the government from representatives of state authorities on the GFT.

Commentary

Though the network of tripartite institutions is quite well developed and covers a number of basic fields of the labour market in Lithuania, only the LRTT appears to have a more or less tangible effect on national social and economic policy. Though the tripartite consultative system is seen in positive light in general, in practice a number of the institutions described above are only formal bodies without any direct impact on final decision-making; their rights and obligations are often vague and mutual cooperation is underdeveloped. The situation in regional bodies is particularly problematic, as here it is often difficult even to find suitable partners for the representation of employers or employees’ interests. (Inga Blažienė, Boguslavas Gruževskis, Institute of Labour and Social Research)

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