The Slovenia Times

Judges and prosecutors stage protest over pay

Judges. Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Judges and prosecutors stopped work for an hour on 4 January in protest at the government's failure to raise their salaries to bring them on a par with those in the other two branches of government as mandated by the Constitutional Court. They will escalate pressure with a work-to rule strike later this month.

The Constitutional Court ruled in June 2023 that the salaries paid to judges are so low they jeopardise the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.

The court ordered the legislator to tackle the matter by 3 January, but the government has been insisting that judiciary pay be tackled as part of comprehensive wage reform in the entire public sector, which is yet to be agreed.

Protest at "abuse of power"

The Association of Judges said their action was meant as a protest against violation of the rule of law. They see the government's failure to implement the Constitutional Court ruling on judge pay as abuse of power.

"We protest because the government and the National Assembly ... ignore the Constitutional Court's decision that protects the independence of the judiciary against the executive and the legislative branches," the association said in a statement.

"In doing so, representatives of the executive and the legislature have abused their power, to the mockery of judges and to the great shame of all of us," the statement reads, adding that the rule of law is based on respecting laws and court decisions.

The association noted that judges' salaries had been falling in real terms for more than 20 years. "The net salary of the lowest paid judge is about €1,300 lower that of the lowest paid MP, and the net salary of a Supreme Court judge is lower than that of the lowest paid MP.

Escalation planned

Failing to elicit any meaningful response from the government with their protest, the judges decided to stage a work-to-rule strike between 10 and 24 January.

During the two-week period, judges will only perform procedural matters in urgent cases. This means that scheduled hearings could be cancelled while new hearings will not be scheduled, and there will be no sessions at the Higher Court.

The main board of the Association of Judges also urged Prime Minister Robert Golob and Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan to step down.

They will inform European Commissioner Didier Reynders that Slovenian judges might not take part in electoral commissions for the European Parliament elections.

Judges will also examine the option of filing criminal complaints against senior members of the executive and legislative and the Judicial Council will be urged to ask the Constitutional Court to determine how the ruling on judge pay should be implemented.

The head of the Association of Public Prosecutors, Boštjan Valenčič, announced that prosecutors would stage a strike next week as well unless the ruling is implemented.

Judges notified the EU's top institutions of the issue and of their planned action in late December and they expect the issue to be included in the European Commission's next rule of law report for Slovenia after it had already been mentioned in the previous one.

Govt adamant on its position

The protest follows after the government repeatedly promised to tackle judiciary pay. A year ago, Prime Minister Golob declared that judges and prosecutors would get a monthly bonus of €600 gross on top of their pay until the public sector pay system reform is implemented.

The government later withdrew a bill aimed at enacting that promise over concerns that it might might be problematic from the aspect of the separation of powers.

It then reached agreement with the judges to create a separate pay tier for the judiciary in the new public sector pay system, but then delayed the date of its implementation, citing the devastating August flood as the reason.

On the eve of the judges' protest, Golob said the government cannot implement an agreement on a pay reform for the judiciary without implementing it for the entire public sector.

However, judges say the pay reform is a separate issue from the Constitutional Court's ruling, which needs to be implemented as mandated.

Justice Ministry official steps down

The Justice Ministry has been supportive of the judges' demands and has drawn up an emergency bill to raise their salaries by means of a €1,000 gross bonus a month, but failed to get the government on board.

In protest against the government's failure to implement the ruling, a state secretary at the ministry, Valerija Jelen Kosi, who formerly served as judge, tendered her resignation on 4 January.

State attorneys also expressed their support for judges and prosecutors, and Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina said that failure to implement Constitutional Court decisions was a systemic problem and a major violation of the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Public Administration Minister Franc Props acknowledged that judge pay is low but said that the Constitutional Court's decision on their pay would be implemented once pay talks for the entire public sector end.

In a similar situation, judges held a 10-month work-to-rule strike in 2008-09 before the government agreed to align their wages to those in the executive and legislative, and to reassert the primacy of fixed- over performance-based wages.

This was after the Constitutional Court issued two decisions, in 2006 and in 2008, finding the public pay system legislation flawed for failing to secure the judiciary as the third branch of government equal treatment with the executive and legislative.


More from Politics