A crowd of about 2,500 metal workers gathered outside the Office of the Government to register their dissatisfaction with cabinet policy.
The rally, which brought together workers from ailing machinery companies across Slovakia, gathered in front of the building of the Employers Association and then moved to the Government Office. It was organized by the KOVO metalworkers' union, the biggest trade union organization in the Slovak Trade Unions Confederation (KOZ), under the slogan "For Jobs, Wages and the Rights of Employees."
The protest took place the same day as a meeting of the Social Partnership Council, the highest body formed under a two-week old tripartite law designed to script a new labour code and promote compromise between unions, employers and the government.
Deputy Prime Minister for Economy and Social Partnership Council Chairman Ivan Mikloš said he did not consider the protest rally justified, as the government is trying to work towards compromise. Under the terms of the new tripartite agreement, he said, important labour disputes will ultimately be worked out within a 21-member council in which labour, employers and the government will be represented equally.
"Problems in these companies have been mounting for years. We, as the former opposition, criticized these problems and their political and economic origins. We did our utmost to halt these unfavourable developments," Mikloš said.
But František Bruckmayer, the general director of the Slovak Association of Employer Unions and Associations, said he considered protest rallies a legitimate tactic of trade unionists who wished to express dissatisfaction with wages and the problems in tripartite relations. During the rally, KOVO leaders Emil Machyna and Peter Janiček addressed a "trade union" package to Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, bearing unionists' demands and their joint statement.
The unions asked the government to adopt measures to improve the productivity of the economy, mobilise potential tax revenues from corporations, ease the tax burden on private individuals and shift money into development programs. Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová told a press conference that 90% of the demands of the unions are acceptable to the government.
KOVO says the worst situation among machinery companies is now at ZŤS TEES Martin, belonging to the DMD Group, where 560 employees have recently lost their jobs. The union said that layoffs have also occured in other machinery companies like Martin Diesel, Vlkanovské Strojárne, Hontianské Strojárne, Mostáren Brezno and ESPE Pieso. Martinmetal, OFZ Istebne and Tatra Sipox Banovce nad Bebravou may also face lay-offs.
Economists say the biggest problem affecting the machinery sector is that many companies which used to manufacture arms during the cold war have never made a successful transition to other forms of production.
21. Feb 1999 at 0:00 | SITA