Trade union confederations leaving Economic and Social Council

Ljubljana – Trade union confederations decided on Thursday to leave the Economic and Social Council (ESS), the country’s main industrial relations forum. The main reason is the “government’s systematic violation of rules on the functioning of the ESS”. More detail is to be presented at a press conference on Friday.

Representative trade union confederations have been warning for a year that the government has destroyed the social dialogue with its attitude towards trade unions.

Rather than being actively involved in the making of laws and other regulations affecting citizens’ lives, the government has merely informed trade unions of the changes.

The trade unions thus announced at the end of March that they were considering temporarily leaving the ESS.

According to the newspaper Večer, the last straw was the fact that the proposed tax changes, adopted by the government last week, have not even reached the ESS.

According to the paper’s unofficial but reliable information, the heads of trade union confederations have been deciding on an obstruction of ESS sessions due to the government’s repeated breaking of the rules, and possible demonstrations.

The ESS is a tripartite body, connecting social partners and the government. Its role is to address problems and measures connected to economic and social policies, as well as other problems regarding specific fields of negotiation of the partners.

Responding to the development, Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj said the door to continue dialogue remained open. He highlighted a number of measures that have been jointly discussed and harmonised over the past year, which he admitted had been hard due to the epidemic.

“The Ministry of Labour, the Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities has engaged in dialogue with all stakeholders while promptly adopting urgent measures.

“We would like to point out that the time of the Covid-19 epidemic is an emergency, hence the speed to take decisions was crucial,” he said in a written statement.

Cigler Kralj announced that the government will continue “advocating and protecting the interests and rights of all workers”.

The decision took by surprise the employers on the ESS, who regret it, arguing the tri-partite dialogue was very important when reforms were being adopted and the future course of the society set.

“The decision has strongly surprised me, even if it’s legal and legitimate,” Jože Smole, secretary general of the Association of Employers (ZDS), told the STA.

He said the tax changes were currently discussed by an ESS task force, while there had been no discussion about changes to the minimum wage law, which had not bothered the unions.

Smole hopes the unions change their mind and return to the negotiating table, since their quitting also excludes the employers from the dialogue with the government.

He said the employers would like the country to launch a discussion on a new social deal, “but we can’t imagine it with an inoperative tri-partite dialogue”.

A similar view was presented by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GSZ), which currently chairs the ESS, saying a constructive dialogue among social partners is of utmost importance when the country is making efforts to exit the crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The opposition LMŠ, SD, SAB as well as unaffiliated MPs regret but also understand the trade union’s withdrawal.

“Just as the Janez Janša government ignored the oppositions in adopting anti-crisis measures, it is ignoring the ESS,” the LMŠ, the largest opposition party, wrote.

“Whichever side withdrawing from social dialogue is bad for Slovenia and its citizens. But we can understand the reasons given by the trade unions, as this government has shown no interest in dialogue, taking decisions unilaterally and often in an authoritarian manner,” said unaffiliated MP Janja Sluga.

The coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) would meanwhile like social dialogue rather then political dialogue to be at the forefront at the hard coronavirus times.