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State to cut 27,000 civil servants

In one of its most ambitious cost-cutting measures yet, the cabinet of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda plans to sack up to 27,000 civil servants by the end of the year, saving the 1999 state budget three billion Slovak crowns ($70 million). The government says it simply can't afford to keep so many state employees on its payroll, but trade unions are not buying this argument. Public protests will follow, unions warn, if the government doesn't change its mind.
The job cuts actually form part of a sweeping reform of public administraton that the government hopes will increase the independence and power of local governments in Slovakia. But while the reform programme will not start until January 2001, the government's budget restraints have made layoffs essential this year.


The cabinet has proposed cutting 10% of civil servants this year, but says that 'professionals' have nothing to fear.
photo: Vladimír Hák-Profit

In one of its most ambitious cost-cutting measures yet, the cabinet of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda plans to sack up to 27,000 civil servants by the end of the year, saving the 1999 state budget three billion Slovak crowns ($70 million). The government says it simply can't afford to keep so many state employees on its payroll, but trade unions are not buying this argument. Public protests will follow, unions warn, if the government doesn't change its mind.

The job cuts actually form part of a sweeping reform of public administraton that the government hopes will increase the independence and power of local governments in Slovakia. But while the reform programme will not start until January 2001, the government's budget restraints have made layoffs essential this year.

The government's determination to press ahead with layoffs before administrative reform has fuelled criticism from state employees, unions and the government's political opponents, who say that the job cuts will lead to chaos in the delivery of state services to the public.

Oľga Keltošová, a deputy with the opposition HZDS party, said that civil service staff cuts would only be "a good idea if they first completed the reforms - the transfer of powers from the state to local governments. But if the government starts from the other end, which means that they dismiss state employees without preparing institutions and economic conditions for the power transfer, this will cause total administrative chaos."

Keltošová, who served as Labour Minister in the former Mečiar cabinet, explained that new independent bodies at the regional and municipal level should be created before the civil servants were fired. These bodies would in turn create job openings for the dismissed state employees.

"Simply sacking people from the civil service won't solve the problem. Some parts of the state administration have too many employees and are over-bureaucraticised, but even these need systematic change, not just employee cuts," she said.


Viktor Nižňanský has been given the job of reforming the civil service.
photo: Miro Nota - Trend

But Martin Barto, director of strategy at the state-owned SLSP bank, said that the job cuts couldn't come soon enough. Slovakia's civil service ranks had grown over the past several years, he said, curbing GDP growth and laying an insupportable fiscal burden on the government.

According to an analysis published by Mesa 10, a Bratislava-based independent think tank, Slovakia employed 6,000 people in 1994 to staff central administration bodies such as ministries and government offices; in 1999, the number exceeded 8,000.

"As a percentage of GDP, we [Slovakia] have more clerks than they have in Germany. But we don't produce enough to be able to afford so many administrative employees," Barto said.

This line of reasoning is not popular with trade unions representing Slovakia's education sector employees. Almost two-thirds of state employees work in the school sector, the unions say, which could mean that some 17,000 education workers would lose their jobs this year.

"It's just the Finance Ministry's idea of how to save money," said Kamil Vajnorský, vice-president of the teacher's union for the daily newspaper Práca. "Prime Minister [Dzurinda] promised that every serious social issue would be discussed with the government's social partners [business leaders and union officials], but apparently his promises are absolutely invalid in practice."

Vajnorský added that the unions planned to organize a nation-wide protest on July 2 against the government's planned cuts. "The state is just ignoring its social partners," he continued.

Time for a change

Given Slovakia's economic problems and increasing social tensions, the cabinet says it has devoted great thought to minimising the effects of the job cuts, as well as to how the layoffs will fit into the overall strategy of public administration reform.

According to Viktor Nižňanský, the government-appointed supervisor of the reform package, experts and experienced professionals will be exempt from the planned civil service staff cuts. "It's not simply a question of dismissing the first 27,000 people," he said. "Also, some of those dismissed will find jobs with new local and regional authorities."

Nižňanský explained that the cabinet's plan was to transfer control of schools, health care, housing, social affairs and other areas from the state to local and regional governments. The state, he said, will keep its powers in such areas as national defence, security, foreign policy and social legislation. "Local governments will provide certain services out of their own budgets, while the state will supervise their performance. Wherever the law is broken, the state will step in."

The main reason behind the reform, he said, was to make citizens more responsible for governing themselves. "Citizens cannot control state officials, but if they elect local representatives and aren't satisfied with their performance, they'll be able to recall them. Today, powers and responsiblities are spread over many levels and divided among many people, which increases the sense of anonymity surrounding the activities and decisions of state officials."

Miloš Sýkora, chairman of the Association of Towns and Villages (ZMOS) and mayor of Štrba village in the High Tatras, agreed that it was high time that local governments were given more responsibilities. Even now, he said, local governments were expected to deliver services not within their jurisdiction. "People don't ask who has the power to do this or that, they simply come to us and ask for help," he said.

Along with the decentralisation of state power, additional tax funds will flow into municipal coffers after 2001. "At the moment, the municipalities get only 6% of national tax income, while 94% goes to the state budget," said Nižňanský. "After the reform, the ratio should be 50% for both state and local administration."

"This will bring an end to the era when parliamentary deputies decided where to spend 180 billion crowns from the state budget," Nižňanský added.

The reform programme was approved by the Government Council for Public Administration, an advisory authority to the cabinet, on June 21. More concrete steps and legal amendments should be prepared by the end of the year.

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