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Labour Code changes leave neither side happy

A LAST-minute change to a Labour Code amendment removes some of its most "unjust and absurd" elements, says a senior parliamentarian, but the law as a whole remains "a tool for battling corporate owners in the finest traditions of Marxism."
For František Šebej, chairman of the Parliamentary Integration Committee, the Labour Code adjustments approved in the legislature March 20 do not go far enough towards making the Slovak labour market "flexible".
The Labour Code, which takes effect April 1, after the latest changes allows people to work a maximum of 58 hours a week rather than 48, and permits the use of part-time contracts. However, parts of the law strengthening the role of unions and labour representatives in the workplace were not changed.


MOST employees are just glad to have a job.
photo: TASR

A LAST-minute change to a Labour Code amendment removes some of its most "unjust and absurd" elements, says a senior parliamentarian, but the law as a whole remains "a tool for battling corporate owners in the finest traditions of Marxism."

For František Šebej, chairman of the Parliamentary Integration Committee, the Labour Code adjustments approved in the legislature March 20 do not go far enough towards making the Slovak labour market "flexible".

The Labour Code, which takes effect April 1, after the latest changes allows people to work a maximum of 58 hours a week rather than 48, and permits the use of part-time contracts. However, parts of the law strengthening the role of unions and labour representatives in the workplace were not changed.

"[The March 20 changes] are not acceptable for me. They fixed only some of the partial mistakes, while I think the biggest mistake in the law is its basic philosophy," said Igor Malinovský, director of the Draft construction firm.

Employers in Slovakia have long called for greater freedom in hiring and firing workers, arguing that Slovakia as a developing country with a fickle business environment must allow employers to respond freely and quickly to market changes.

The same message has been sent by economic groups such as the International Monetary Fund, which described the pre-March 20 Code as one that would "add rigidities, rather than increase flexibility... [and] represent a significant obstacle to the reduction of employment from its currently high level of almost 20 per cent."

The IMF called the changes added by parliament last week "encouraging".

But Malinovský pointed to rules requiring unions be "kept informed" of management decisions and plans (paragraph 47), and requiring that the employer secure the approval of a labour representative before firing a worker (paragraph 74) as "unthinkable" restrictions.

"Every contractual relationship is the result of freely agreed rules by the parties involved. Legal work relationships should express the will of the employer to offer work, and of the employee to accept that work. But the Labour Code destroys this balance by excessively increasing the powers of unions or labour representatives.

"Employers face discrimination especially in the fact that the law dramatically reduces their power to sanction those of their employees who don't abide by their contractual responsibilities. You can't fire such people, because after April 1 it will be the unions and labour representatives who decide whether the employer is justified, not the courts. That is unthinkable."

One of the most contentious aspects of the new Code remains the requirement that employers ensure the election of a 'labour representative' at all companies with more than five employees, and which do not already have unions. These representatives must also be kept informed of basic company decisions and results, and are elected by their fellow employees to four year terms during which they cannot be fired without the prior approval of the Labour Inspectorate.

Employers and employees alike said the rule forced organised labour on them whether they wanted it or not.

"How am I supposed to force people to organise if they don't want to?" asked Alena Šmidriaková of HTC Computers.

Even unions, which had threatened to strike if the March 20 parliamentary changes took away the privileges organised labour had secured in the Code, seemed unsure that labour representatives and Labour Councils (required at firms with over 20 employees) would help anyone.

"We warned them about these problems, but the ministry that prepared the proposal [Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family] insisted on them. Labour Councils are not even required in the Czech Republic," said Ivan Saktor, head of the KOZ union umbrella group.

Other changes from March 20 include a narrower definition of when the burden of proof will be on the employer to establish in court that an employee was not discriminated against.

While the working day still "in principle" cannot start before 06:00, the law no longer strictly limits exceptions, meaning in theory that bakers, garbage men and postmen can go to work without breaking the rules.

And while the "two consecutive days of rest" employers must give workers should still be Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, exceptions to this rule will henceforth be easier to get if the nature of the work does not permit fixed days of rest.

Malinovský said he believed the remaining rigidity of the Labour Code would encourage both employers and employees to break the law, especially given the high unemployment rate.

Miro Pupek, an employee of the Sezám bakery in northern Slovakia's Kysuce Nove Mesto, agreed, but said he was just happy to have a job.

"We're not interested in such things. We bake bread rolls, and we're happy that we could get work," he said.

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