The Slovenia Times

Emergency dispatchers go on strike

Politics
The 112 emergency number logo. Photo: An┼że Malovrh/STA

Slovenian emergency dispatchers went on strike over pay and working conditions on 19 February. Dispatch services accessible via 112 emergency number will operate without disruption, but some administrative activities will be affected during the strike, which will continue until an agreement is reached with the government.

Employees in all of the country's 13 regional dispatch centres and the central one are striking at their workplaces and work is to continue uninterrupted. "Work activities during the strike will be carried out as per normal on working day," Marjan Lah, the head of the Defence Ministry's in-house trade union, said.

The dispatchers's right to strike is limited under the law on natural and other disasters, and at the weekend Leon Behin, director of the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration, issued an order requiring the employees at the dispatch centres to ensure minimum work process.

The trade union announced the strike a week ago, citing stalled public sector pay talks. It has been warning for months that 112 dispatchers' pay is too low and vacancies are no longer being filled.

The union and the government met for talks on 16 February, but the union said the next day that the government's proposal was inconsistent and did not address the strike demands.

Union leader Lah says they are not trying to harm people. "On the contrary, we don't fight only to right the wrongs of dispatchers, ... but also for the people and their safety."

Overworked and underpaid

Dispatchers played a key role in last year's floods. Their statistics show they handled almost 14,000 calls in a single day on 4 August and a total of more than 700,000 throughout the entire year, a 23.5% increase on the year before.

Despite dispatchers' dedication, the government refused to acknowledge how important the profession is, the union says, noting that early-career dispatchers receive base pay below minimum wage so their wages have to be supplemented to reach minimum wage level.

As a result there are no more candidates applying for vacancies, which has led to frequent burnout among staff.

The Defence Ministry regretted the union's decision for the strike, with State Secretary Rudi Medved saying that some of the issues concerning working conditions had been resolved or were beginning to be resolved.

Nevertheless, Medved admitted that the issue of higher wage brackets for dispatchers remains unaddressed despite the fact that the government recognises the need to increase their pay. This is because the government insists this can only be negotiated as part of the broader talks on public sector pay reform.

The sides are expected to continue talks in the coming days. Medved said that the government would try to convince the union to join the general public sector pay talks.

Dispatchers are only the latest group in the public sector to go on strike after doctors, judges, prosecutors and clerks at administrative units.

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