Stimulus package No. 6 amended and okayed for plenary
Ljubljana - The sixth stimulus package, extending or reactivating aid measures and introducing some new ones, was sent to the plenary by the parliamentary Finance Committee with some amendments on Tuesday. The bill was discussed by two more committees on Monday, with the opposition criticising certain criteria and provisions it said were out of place.
The latest package, valued at around EUR 1 billion, is meant to alleviate the impact of the coronacrisis on businesses and residents, extending once more the furlough scheme, measures to help liquidity and, as a key novelty, help with fixed expenses.
For the last three months of this year, companies with a revenue decline of over 70% will be eligible for compensation equalling 1.2% of their annual income per month; those whose revenue declined by between 30% and 70% will get 0.6% per month.
Several opposition MPs found the criteria for fixed expenses compensation too strict, with Edvard Paulič of the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) wondering if "fixed expenses are really in correlation with income".
Coalition MPs amended the government proposal by lowering the revenue drop threshold from 40% to 30%. Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj argued the lump sum solution had been picked because it simplified matters, but the opposition insisted the woes of sole proprietors were not being addressed appropriately.
Another coalition amendment, coming after a two-day session of the Finance Committee, limits the amount of pay for furloughed workers subsidised by the state to the average wage. The state will continue subsidising 80%.
The coalition planned to raise the share to 100% for small companies, but the provision was not adopted due to a voting mix-up. It is expected this amendment will be adopted at Wednesday's plenary.
Part time work subsidies will also be continued, but it was said that this would be secured through a government decree and not with the new package.
Left unamended despite strong criticism from the opposition, which argued the government was targetting those publicly expressing their opinion, was the raising of the fine for those violating restrictions to public gatherings. The current fines range between 400 and 4,000 euros, while those calling for such violations or organising them could now reach up to EUR 10,000.
Upon the request of four left-leaning opposition parties, the stimulus package was also discussed by the Committee for Labour, the Family, Social Affairs and the Disabled, as well as by the Education Committee on Monday.
The central topic on the former was a provision scraping a three-month transitional period during which a person newly registered as unemployed is not yet obliged to accept a job deemed as appropriate for them by the Employment Service.
While Labour Ministry State Secretary Cveto Uršič argued the move was geared towards securing staff at care homes, trade unionists said those who had the required skills for institutional care were already employed and that the provision interfered with the employment relations act, which had never before been changed without social dialogue.
"This is already the sixth stimulus package that puts the economy before the people," Andrej Zorko of the ZSSS trade union confederation said.
Jožef Lenart of the coalition Democrats (SDS) saw things differently, arguing that by helping the economy the government was helping the people.
Jerca Korče of the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Violeta Tomić of the opposition Left meanwhile took issue with a 700 euro universal income envisaged for religious workers in the last three months of 2020 with the option of a six-month extension.
While the coalition ended up deciding on the Finance Committee to scrap the religious workers provision, the two opposition MPs contrasted it to the situation of the young, who so far got a single payment of EUR 150 at the beginning of the first wave. The LMŠ issued a separate press release on the topic, saying it was "high time that attention and measures be also directed towards the young".
Iva Dimic of the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) begged to differ, pointing to parents being absolved from kindergarten fees when kindergartens are closed and students of student dorm rent. She also announced that the seventh stimulus package would tend to groups that had fallen though the cracks thus far.
The young were also a major topic on the Education Committee, with the opposition pointing to the loss of income through student work and closure of student homes due to the epidemic and arguing the government had instead come to the aid of private universities.
The main point of contention was a provision in the stimulus package that extends licences for subsidies for private universities even if they do not meet conditions for this at the moment.
Nataša Sukič of the Left said that lobbying had occurred by the Nova Gorica-based New University and spoke of reasons to suspect corruption.
Education Ministry State Secretary Damir Orehovec said the recommendation for the extension had come from the National Agency for Quality in Higher Education (NAKVIS), whose head Franci Demšar spoke of the need to gain time to put in order enrolment provisions that were disregard by most higher education institutions in the past 20 years.
The SDS's Mojca Škrinjar added this year was tough on everybody, including private higher education institutions. She said faculties will be able to meet the necessary conditions after this period ends.
The Finance Committee preserved this provision, while it scrapped another contentious proposal, which would have equalised the value of the vocational secondary school-leaving exam with the harder, general secondary-school leaving exam, as far as university entry criteria go.
NAKVIS issued a separate statement on Monday in which it labelled both provisions inappropriate and entailing potentially irreparable damage for the quality of secondary and tertiary education. While agreeing with the need for systemic solutions, NAKVIS said the members of its council had not been consulted on these proposals.