Unions say govt expelled them from ESS with ignorance of social dialogue

Ljubljana – Trade union confederations said they had decided to leave the Economic and Social Council (ESS), the country’s industrial relations forum, because the government had practically abolished social dialogue and thus deprived them of the seats at the negotiating table. They warned the government’s action was leading to a conflict.

“It’s hard to withdraw from what does not exist,” Lidija Jerkič of the ZSSS told the press on Friday, adding they intended to fight for worker rights with other means.

She said they were willing to return if the basic rules governing the ESS dialogue, which the government itself adopted, were respected.

Jerkič said social dialogue had started deteriorating during the financial and economic crisis, while it had been further eroded when the employers left in 2017.

She said the government did not respect the ESS rules and proposed or adopted new regulations without prior debate and harmonisation on the ESS.

She listed the national demographic fund bill, the national recovery and resilience plan, and the cap on social security contributions, as such examples.

But what “broke the camel’s back” was a set of tax changes the government sent to parliament without harmonisation on the ESS last week, Jerkič said.

The unions will notify the European Commission of the situation and the reasons for their decision and will not take part in events related to Slovenia’s EU presidency.

They will fight for their rights by seeking a referendum on the law on the national demographic fund, with constitutional reviews and other means of worker action.

Branimir Štrukelj of the KSJS public sector confederation said that by ignoring the ESS, the government let the unions know they should fight for their interests in the street. “We should take this piece of advice very seriously.”

He said that for them, social dialogue was acceptable only under clear conditions, such as equality in dialogue and workers being able to have at least some of their interests secured.

Jakob Počivavšek of Pergam said social dialogue had never been truly alive under this government, “the government abandoned it a year ago”.

For the unions to return to the ESS, “we expect concrete acts,” he said, with Jerkič giving a withdrawal of contentious legislation as an example.

“Where there is no dialogue there emerges conflict,” said KS 90 head Peter Majcen, who believes the government is not even hiding the unions were not wanted.

Evelin Vesenjak of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions said the unions would help facilitate change, including to “make this government go and never return”.

Jerkič outlined the history of social dialogue in Slovenia, saying the ESS was set up in 1994 as a result of a strained social situation following major economic and social change after Slovenia became independent. “It was meant as a forum of balanced dialogue where neither sides’ interests prevail.”

The employers on the ESS expressed regretted the union’s decision, arguing the tri-partite dialogue was very important, while Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj said the door to continue dialogue remained open, urging them to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.