Labour Day messages call for job security and safety at work

Ljubljana – The International Workers’ Day, 1 May, will this year again be marked by epidemic-related restrictions. Trade unions call for job security, decent pensions, social security but also for safety at work, so that workers are not exposed to infection. Traditional celebrations with big bonfires on the eve of the holiday will not take place.

The ZSSS trade union confederation pointed to the poor social and economic situation that workers have found themselves in because of the Covid-19 epidemic. It called for recovery that will put people first.

ZSSS head Lidija Jerkič expressed concern that work has become too flexible recently. “The situation has indeed become unpredictable, but we have let work stretch throughout the whole day, workers are available 24 hours a day, private life and work intertwine,” she said, warning this must not continue when the situation normalises again.

According to the ZSSS, social dialogue must be respected at all times and trade unions must be included in all decision-making processes.

The demand for job security envisages dignified work, decent pay, open-ended employment contracts, as little precarious work as possible and efforts to prevent lay-offs.

According to the union, workers are now being laid off in companies that received state subsidies as part of anti-corona legislation. Thus, the ZSSS demands that public funds be allocated only to companies that honour collective bargaining agreements and do not fire workers.

Job security also entails a base pay that is not lower than the minimum wage. The union believes the public sector pay system should be kept as it is, while additional incentives should be introduced for precarious workers, young employees and the jobless.

The demands for safety at work meanwhile include a safe working environment, where workers will not get infected. The union also calls for a 100% sick leave compensation and a 100% compensation for quarantine.

Like every year, the trade union also demands decent pensions, warning against two legislative proposals it thinks will have a negative impact on pensioners.

The proposed bill on a national demographic fund will only make the elites richer rather than ensuring decent pensions for all, it says. The ZSSS also opposes the proposed social cap, which it says will devastate the health and pension funds.

Other trade unions share this view. The role of trade unions is even more important and necessary in the current situation, as the government is turning social dialogue into a farce, said the head of the KSJS public sector union confederation, Branimir Štrukelj.

The KSJS stressed that the original Labour Day message confirmed over and over again that workers had won their rights with a battle and that it would remain so in the future.

During the epidemic it became clear how important public services and subsystems are, such as healthcare, education, culture and social security, Štrukelj said.

The head of the Pergam trade union confederation, Jakob Počivavšek, said that only workers led by trade unions could stop the “extremely harmful” government proposals, whose goal was to undermine some of the key pillars of welfare state.

He said emergency measures were a smoke screen for systemic changes that will not benefit citizens, Počivavšek said.

The adopting of many important laws, for example that on the national demographic fund, is taking place without social dialogue, he warned. The plan for recovery and resilience was also drafted away from the public eye, he added.

The dismantling of healthcare, education and other fields could very well be the result of bills drawn up in secrecy. “And that could also be the price for the debt that will remain,” he said.

Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina, who met representatives of trade unions ahead of Labour Day on Thursday, thinks several important steps need to be taken to alleviate the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic. He stressed that democratic values must always come before the interests of the capital.

He agreed with trade unionists that forming of solutions must be inclusive.

Svetina said that job losses affected the quality of life of vulnerable groups such as the disabled and older people, who already struggle to compete on the labour market.

He said decision-makers must make sure that social relations were arranged in a way that does not increase differences.

The officials were also critical of inequalities between workers who do the same work and are equally exposed to infection but do not receive the same amount of bonuses.

Svetina was critical of the delay with which the bonuses are being paid out, especially in care homes, and of the differences in the amount of compensation for working for home.

Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj stressed ahead of Labour Day that government measures had played a significant role in preventing the number of the unemployed from rising drastically. In the first wave, the number of jobless increased significantly but the situation calmed down in May, where emergency measures played a significant role, he said.

In the second wave that started last October, unemployment first increased due to seasonal factors as fix-term contracts expired and also because of the epidemic. In the third wave, no major increase in unemployment was recorded and the planned easing of restrictions is expected to reduce unemployment, especially in the hospitality sector and tourism, the minister said.

Because of the epidemic the traditional Labour Day celebrations with bonfires on the eve of the holiday will not be held for the second year in a row, and there will also be no events hosted by trade unions on 1 May.

Small local bonfires will however still be lit tonight with the National Institute of Public Health urging the participants of such celebrations to adhere to safety measures.

The traditional 1 May reveille usually organised by the Association of Brass Bands, the Public Fund for Cultural Activities and the Firefighters’ Association will be played through the speakers of fire engines around the country.