Further changes to extension of collective agreements

Since 2007, Slovakia has applied a new mechanism for extending multi-employer collective agreements. Employers object to extensions that impose collective agreements on them without their consent. They lobbied members of the political opposition, who applied for a decree of the Constitutional Court on the matter. The government has prepared a new proposal to amend the present mechanism of extensions, in consultation with the International Labour Organization.

Employers critical of agreement extensions

Since 2007, a new mechanism for the extension of multi-employer collective agreements has been applied in Slovakia (SK0708019I). This instrument abolished the need for the consent of the employer concerned by the extension. Employers criticised such extensions and tried to avoid them as much as possible (SK0809019I). Lobbying employers succeeded in persuading a group of Members of Parliament from the political opposition to apply for a decree of the Constitutional Court of Slovakia (Ústavný súd Slovenskej republiky, ÚS SR) on the matter.

Although the court had not yet issued its verdict, the government showed its readiness to proceed with further changes to the mechanism used for the extension of collective agreements. In April 2009, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR) set up a working group with the aim of preparing a proposal for a new extension mechanism. The working group consists of representatives and experts of the trade unions, employers and MPSVR SR. According to the working group’s proposal, the extension would concern all employers operating in a sector of economic activity that are not covered by any multi-employer collective agreement. Exceptions will be specified by law.

Consultations with ILO expert

In order to proceed with the changes in extension provisions, MPSVR SR asked for assistance from a Member of the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Niklas Bruun. He discussed the issue with members of the MPSVR SR working group, other experts and representatives of MPSVR SR management in the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava on 4–6 May 2009.

Consultations mainly concerned the legal conditions for the extension, the extension process, exemptions from extensions, the possibility to raise objections to the extension, and the representativeness of the employer and trade union organisations. Mr Bruun expressed his readiness to assist in devising an extension mechanism that would be in harmony with the Slovakian Constitution and ratified ILO Conventions, and that would reflect the local conditions and interests of the parties involved.

Key issues

The main issues addressed were the:

  • representativeness of parties proposing the extension and criteria for their representativeness;
  • sectoral specification of the branch concerned by the extension, according to the General industrial classification of economic activities within the European Communities (Nomenclature générale des activités économiques dans les Communautés européennes, NACE);
  • availability of statistical data for proving the representativeness;
  • publication of the extension proposal and the submission of objections and comments in relation to the proposal;
  • agenda of the extension’s advisory committee.

The extension of collective agreements to all members of the employer organisations that signed the agreement turned out to be a major issue. Up until now, the extension was valid only for those employers listed in the collective agreements. The discussion showed that the main problems in relation to the new mechanism of extensions concerned the:

  • present organisation of employers in employer organisations – that is, they associate employers from different sectoral branches;
  • low trade union density;
  • low coverage of the private sector by collective agreements;
  • negative attitude of some employers not only towards extensions but also towards collective bargaining.

Commentary

Discussions about the preparation of a new extension mechanism showed that the government’s efforts to find a solution acceptable to both the social partners and government might not be successful. The matter is complicated mainly by the different opinions of the social partners and MPSVR SR on some issues. For instance, employer representatives persist in the view that the extension should be proposed by both parties that concluded the collective agreement. However, neither the trade union representatives nor MPSVR SR agree with this idea. Meanwhile, trade unions are not insisting on an automatic extension of collective agreements to the whole sector. They accept that agreement extensions would apply only in companies where trade unions are present. On the other hand, the MPSVR SR representatives are against such a practice because they consider it discriminatory.

Margita Barošová, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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