Survey examines industrial relations following regulatory changes

Employees have relatively high trust in employee representatives, while employers assess social dialogue positively. These are the findings of a 2008 survey conducted by the Institute for Labour and Family Research on employee participation in industrial relations and establishing decent working conditions. The survey also found that there were mixed feelings regarding certain labour law provisions, as well as concerns over the absence of labour courts.

Legislative context

Employee participation in decision-making regarding the organisation of industrial relations and the establishment of decent working conditions was the subject of regulatory changes that sought to create a legal framework for workplace relations in 2007. The legislative changes – which came into effect on 1 September 2007 – included increased protection for employee representatives, improvements in employee participation, increased labour protection and the extension of options for the arrangement of individual employment conditions (SK0709029I, SK0708019I).

About the survey

In 2008, the Institute of Labour and Family Research (Inštitút pre výskum práce a rodiny, IVPR) launched a survey to evaluate the actual situation in these areas compared with the situation before the amended legislation came into effect in 2007. The survey was conducted in 77 enterprises with legally defined employee representatives – that is, trade unions, works councils or trustees. In particular, the survey was targeted at employee representatives, seeking to determine if employees were informed about their rights and entitlements, as well as the activities of employee representatives who are active at their workplace. The survey also tried to assess employees’ attitudes towards working conditions and the overall atmosphere at work.

Participating companies

The companies were selected in order to represent different enterprises – on the basis of their area of economic activity, type and size – and from different regions of Slovakia (Table 1). The existence of employee representatives was another precondition taken into account in the selection of companies. The total number of companies selected was limited by the financial resources available for the survey.

Table 1: Number of enterprises participating in survey, by company size
Company size Number of companies % of selected companies
Small company (0–49 employees) 10 13%
Medium-sized company (50–249 employees) 29 38%
Large company (more than 250 employees) 38 49%
Total 77 100%

Source: IVPR, 2009

Survey respondents

The survey respondents comprised 77 representatives from top management, 77 employee representatives and 230 employees. The viewpoint of employers in this report is represented by top management. Table 2 gives a breakdown of the participating employee representatives.

Table 2: Type and proportion of employee representatives participating in survey
Type of employee representative Total number of employee representatives % of selected respondents
Trade union 58 75%
Works council/Trustee 15 20%
Trade unions as well as works council 4 5%
Total 77 100

Source: IVPR, 2009

Themes of survey

The survey addressed the following themes:

  • the current situation regarding employee participation in decision making concerning the organisation of industrial relations and the establishment of decent working conditions;
  • an assessment of existing legislation, including the impact of the recent regulatory amendments;
  • the identification of reasons for respondents’ dissatisfaction with employee participation in current social dialogue.

Methodology

Information for the survey was obtained through questionnaires prepared for each category of respondent. The questionnaires allowed respondents to reply through specific as well as open questions, which enabled them to articulate their viewpoint and opinions. As the respondents’ participation in the survey was agreed in advance, the return of questionnaires was 100%.

The results provide information about forms of social dialogue and their method of implementation. At the same time, the survey examines the activities of employee representatives and their impact on the content of social dialogue. The results point to current tendencies in the use of employee participation rights in the surveyed enterprises. They also allow some comparison between the viewpoints of employees and employers regarding this issue.

Attitudes towards social dialogue

Social dialogue at workplace and perception of new legislation

The survey gives an insight into the respondents’ attitudes towards social dialogue. It reveals that the social partners have mutual respect for each other in most of the surveyed companies. More than 70% of the employee and employer respondents declared that social dialogue regularly takes place and is useful for both partners.

In terms of respondents’ perceptions of the recent regulatory amendments, most of the employer and employee representatives assessed the amended legal regulation of industrial relations positively. In relation to changes to the Labour Code, 60% of employee representatives declared at least a slight improvement in working conditions, while more than 70% of them indicated that the legislative changes had allowed them to enforce more effectively the employees’ interests. Employers considered the recent changes in the regulation of social dialogue to be useful – mainly in relation to improving mutual information and communication (83%) as well as the working atmosphere (57%). According to the employers, employees are more satisfied with the current labour legislation compared with the situation before the Labour Code amendments were introduced.

Attitudes of employees, employee representatives and employers

The survey also gives a breakdown of the different respondents’ attitudes towards social dialogue, distinguishing between employees, employee representatives and employers. The survey found that:

  • 80% of employees emphasised that it is necessary that their rights in relation to the employer are protected by their representative;
  • 70% of employees trust the employee representatives; however, only 56% of the employees indicated that they were satisfied with their work;
  • 86% of employee representatives declared that their activities in this respect have a positive or extremely positive impact on the employees’ situation;
  • according to the employee representatives, in 73% of cases the employers discuss with the employee representatives all participation issues – either legally defined or mutually agreed measures concerning employees – for example, in the areas of remuneration and working conditions. In 60% of cases, the discussion and negotiation takes place at a suitable time, involving the relevant content and the effort needed to reach an agreement. Only 56% of employee representatives have the background material at their disposal necessary for negotiation. Furthermore, in 51% of cases, employers seek to reach consensus in social dialogue;
  • 12% of employee representatives have signed an agreement with the employers on expanding their rights on information, negotiation and control above the defined rules;
  • according to 70% of employee representatives, employers respect their right to co-decision in all legally defined issues – for example, unevenly scheduled working time or the use of the Social Fund by the employer – or mutually agreed issues. In 28% of cases, employers fulfil this obligation only partially, and in 2% of instances they do not fulfil this function at all. Some 8% of employee representatives have negotiated wider participation rights in co-decision. The employer provides legally defined or mutually agreed information about its activities, economic and financial situation in the enterprise, as well as other suitable information, to 67% of employee representatives; only 60% consider that the information is provided on time;
  • employers assess relationships and cooperation with employee representatives more positively than the employee representatives do (see Table 3).
Table 3: Evaluation of industrial relations by employers and employee representatives (%)
Aspects of industrial relations Cited by employers Cited by employee representatives
Trust between social partners 92 60
Open and direct communication 96 72
Consensual approach 92 65
Keeping agreements 95 72

Source: IVPR, 2009

Means and content of social dialogue

Organisational, material and technical means for social dialogue

According to the employee representatives:

  • in more than 80% of enterprises, communication between top management and employee representatives functions well;
  • 64% of employee representatives can take paid time off to take care of their duties in compliance with the labour law; a further 35% of employee representatives have reached an agreement with their employer on more extensive paid time off. Despite this, up to 68% of employee representatives indicated that their employer did not provide enough time for the performance of their tasks;
  • 75% of employee representatives have an office with administrative facilities as well as conditions for the dissemination of information at their disposal in the company – in most cases, these facilities are provided free of charge.

Content of social dialogue

The researchers summed up the main outcomes of the survey regarding the content of the social dialogue as follows:

  • in 69% of companies, the main themes of social dialogue were the working environment and occupational health and safety;
  • social dialogue did not frequently deal with issues such as the education and training of employees – for example, only 12% of companies dealt with training for young workers or those with low qualifications. Other issues that were less frequently dealt with included the implementation of atypical forms of employment (23% of companies), along with the reconciliation of work and family life (25% of companies);
  • the activities of 87% of employee representatives focus on the implementation of occupational health and safety issues in compliance with EU Directive 89/391/EEC of 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work – such activities focus on issues like the control of workplaces, requesting the elimination of weaknesses and proposing improvements in occupational health and safety.

Barriers to effective social dialogue

Representatives of employees and employers participating in the survey highlighted a number of weaknesses in the current labour legislation – in particular, the degree of ambiguity, the difficulty involved in applying certain legal provisions and the problem of obsolete legal provisions.

Ambiguous legislation

The survey respondents pointed to ambiguities in relation to the following:

  • the start of, changes in and termination of employment contracts and atypical forms of employment, as well as the organisation of working time;
  • the arrangement of working hours and working time schedules that may become an obstacle to work;
  • standard holiday (for recovery) and additional holiday entitlements;
  • severance pay as well as benefits for retiring employees;
  • trade union activity at companies, along with the provision of time off and material and technical facilities for employee representatives to perform their functions.

Difficult application of certain legal provisions

The respondents also identified difficulties in the application of certain legal provisions, in particular:

  • the absence of operational regulation regarding the application of the Labour Code provisions pertaining to the terms of difficult work and suitable work, which are applied for example in the relocation of employees to other jobs;
  • difficulties involved in providing employment references in the event of employment termination within the legally set timeframe – the existing deadline is too short.

Obsolete legal provisions

In addition, the respondents deemed certain legal provisions to be obsolete:

  • neither employers nor employee representatives are satisfied with the participation of employee representatives in the standardisation of work performance – employers are critical of the non-professional contribution of employee representatives, while employee representatives believe that the employers often change performance standards unilaterally;
  • the employers and employees are demanding an increase in the maximum number of annual hours allowed by the Labour Code for the use of external employment contracts – for example, with regard to agreements on work performance or on working activity;
  • the employee representatives are demanding higher legal protection.

Recommendations

Based on the survey findings and analysis of its results, the survey’s authors recommended that the following measures be adopted.

  • In order to improve the use of employee representatives’ competencies – for instance, regarding the improved participation of employees in decision-making on labour conditions and improved social dialogue – the authors recommended:
  • revising and amending legal regulations concerning industrial relations and social dialogue to eliminate the abovementioned barriers to effective social dialogue;
  • ensuring a more systematic and efficient monitoring of labour inspection bodies in the area of collective industrial relations, including the inspection of adherence to obligations arising from collective agreements;
  • establishing a special independent public agency to solve problems in the area of industrial relations through the provision of counselling services, training activities and the dissemination of best practice examples.
  • In order to improve industrial relations at individual level, the authors recommended:
  • implementing individual working time accounts in the labour legislation as one of the forms of flexible working time arrangements;
  • establishing labour courts to resolve individual labour disputes;
  • improving labour inspection monitoring in enterprises and providing counselling services.

Teodor Hatina, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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