Employers protest Labour Code changes

THE PROPOSED amendment to the Slovak Labour Code could end up doing more harm than good. The government has said that it will provide more protection for employees, but employers and their representatives claim that it will limit them and stifle the creation of new jobs.

THE PROPOSED amendment to the Slovak Labour Code could end up doing more harm than good. The government has said that it will provide more protection for employees, but employers and their representatives claim that it will limit them and stifle the creation of new jobs.

A draft amendment has already been prepared based on negotiations between the Labour Ministry and labour unions. If passed, the amendment as it stands now would allow labour unions to play a more active role in the decision-making process of employers, especially concerning working hours and shift scheduling.

Other proposed changes include capping the workweek at 48 hours, raising the minimum wage to 60 percent of the national average wage, reinstating a compulsory severance package for employees who are let go due to corporate restructuring, and restricting the practice of hiring employees on successive short-term contracts.

While the government is optimistic about the changes and labour unions welcome them, employers and their representatives fear that the new rules will worsen their position and make it more difficult for them to take on new employees due to higher operating costs.

Juraj Borgula, a member of the Slovak National Union of Employers, told the TASR news agency on January 26 that "if the amendment passes in the form it's in now it will be a serious threat to Slovakia's economic growth."

Borgula also complained about the amendment's political overtones. "Many of the changes proposed by the Labour Ministry and the trade unions don't have any professional basis, but were simply plucked out of political thin air," he said.

The ruling socialist Smer party was supported ahead of elections by Slovak organized labour, and many see the new Labour Code as a form of payback.

The draft amendment was also criticised by Robert Kičina, the executive director of the Entrepreneur's Alliance of Slovakia. "For the business sector, it's especially important that the lay-off process not be too complicated, and that the amount of overtime that is possible to agree on with employees not be reduced," he explained. "Employers definitely won't agree with the stronger position of company unions," he added.

Employers have also objected to the fact that they weren't consulted when the proposals were being drawn up, and are threatening to appeal to international authorities, a tactic they used successfully in the 1990s. "If our comments are not taken into consideration, we'll get in touch with the International Labour Organisation," Borgula said.

In spite of all the criticism, the government has insisted that the changes are for the good of employees and that they shouldn't cause any real problems for employers.

"We'll find a balance that on the one hand provides better health and safety measures and protects employees' rights, and on the other ensures that we don't have a Labour Code that sends us back to the distant past," said Prime Minister Robert Fico during his January 25 talks with labour union leaders, who expressed satisfaction with the proposed amendment.

MP Boris Zala of the ruling Smer party also defended the changes. "We're not preparing any moves that will change the flexibility of the labour market. The revisions that we're preparing are only meant to protect employees in situations where they are completely at the mercy of employers and aren't able to defend themselves," he said at the beginning of January on a talk show on Markíza TV.

Parliament is due to debate the changes in March, while the amendment should take effect as of July.

What's on the agenda

The proposed changes in the Labour Code would, among other things,

* Limit successive short-term contracts
* Limit work done by the self-employed
* Cap workweek at 48 hours, including overtime
* Count doctors' on-call time as full working hours
* Reinstate compulsory severance pay for employees who have been made redundant
* Set the minimum wage at 60 percent of the national average wage
* Allow labour unions to participate in organising and limiting work shifts
* Allow employers to fine employees if they leave sooner than two months after giving notice
* Increase the limit of employees' financial responsibility for damage that they cause

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