Ljubljana – The Constitutional Court has annulled a provision in the latest Covid relief law that raises the pay ceiling in the single public sector wage system only for doctors and dentists. The trade unions which petitioned the court to examine the law welcomed its decision.
The court said the measure, which would affect the very foundations of the uniform public sector pay system, was not an emergency measure that would deal with the consequences of the epidemic.
The promised increase by six wage brackets until the end of 2022, included in the Covid-19 package passed at the end of last year, angered other groups of public sector employees, whose unions are demanding higher wages as well.
The rise for only one group of public sector employees was challenged at the court by the bosses of five trade union associations representing the public sector.
Lidija Jerkič from the ZSSS, Branimir Štrukelj from the KSJS confederation of public sector unions, Jakob Počivavšek from Pergam, Evelin Vesenjak from Neodvisnost, and Peter Majcen from KS 90 argued that in the process of the passage of the law, the right to referendum was violated.
After the National Assembly passed the Covid relief package in late December, it also banned a referendum on it to speed up the implementation of emergency coronavirus measures. However, the unions argued the constitution did not make it possible to ban a referendum on changes to pay brackets.
In mid-February, the Constitutional Court stayed the implementation of the provision, pending its final decision.
In the decision published today, the court said that a mass spread of Covid-19 patients is a natural disaster even if the country has not officially declared epidemic.
The Covid relief law is indeed one of the exceptions which must not be put to a referendum under Article 90 of the constitution. However, the provision on wages, which would change the public sector pay system act and affect the very foundations of the public sector pay system, is not an emergency Covid-related measure, the court said.
It rejected the claim of the National Assembly and the government that one of the harmful consequences of Covid-19 was the dropping number of doctors, and that the contentious provision was to help young doctors in particular.
The court has found that doctors leaving health institutions and low pay of young doctors are not related to Covid-19 but “are the result of a long-standing dissatisfaction of doctors with the pay system and other working conditions, as well as other factors, such as the policy on training doctors, the provision of specialisations, etc”.
“Moreover, the possibility of increasing the pay of young doctors does not depend on the contested provision, as the latter allows for an increase of the maximum doctor pay. The wage brackets of young doctors are significantly lower and can be increased regardless of the contested provision …,” the court said.
The decision was made in a 7:2 vote, with judges Klemen Jaklič and Marko Šorli submitting dissenting opinions.
The initiators of the constitutional review said the decision had been expected. They also said that if social dialogue were set up, there would be no need for constitutional reviews.
“If those in power honoured the basic principles of social partnership and bills were discussed before they are endorsed by the government and the National Assembly, there would be no such risks,” said Štrukelj from the KSJS.
The trade union expects the new government to immediately start negotiations on public sector pay, especially those in the lower brackets, and restore the Economic and Social Council, the main forum for social dialogue.