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BUSINESSES SAY THEY ARE WAITING FOR NEXT GOVERNMENT TO MAKE LABOUR RULES MORE CLEAR

Labour Code hitting snags in practice

THREE MONTHS after a controversial new Labour Code took effect, firms and business advocates say they are still struggling to bring their workforce policies into line with awkward regulations.
Rules limiting weekly hours of work and overtime, eliminating temporary contracts and requiring employees to be brought into company decision-making, are seriously out of step with the realities of the Slovak labour market, the critics say.
The Code, which took effect on April 1, 2002, was amended shortly before it hit the law books after a wave of resistance from business. But even the 'improved' version remains a hurdle for companies employing more than just a few people.


MANY WORKERS don't even want the Code's added 'protection', labour experts say.
photo: TASR

THREE MONTHS after a controversial new Labour Code took effect, firms and business advocates say they are still struggling to bring their workforce policies into line with awkward regulations.

Rules limiting weekly hours of work and overtime, eliminating temporary contracts and requiring employees to be brought into company decision-making, are seriously out of step with the realities of the Slovak labour market, the critics say.

The Code, which took effect on April 1, 2002, was amended shortly before it hit the law books after a wave of resistance from business. But even the 'improved' version remains a hurdle for companies employing more than just a few people.

"Some people have the fairly strong feeling that additional changes should be made. There are even some suggestions that the whole labor law be re-done once again entirely," said Jake Slegers, director of American Chamber of Commerce, which took part in the Labour Code amendment process.

"The biggest problems for our members have been related to the low flexibility of the labour force in Slovakia," added AmCham executive assistant Rastislav Mackanič.

Even state officials agree the new law limits 'flexibility' - the ability of employers to react to market conditions by expanding or reducing workforces, or by getting employees to work longer to meet short-term business obligations.

"Now, an employee can work a maximum of 40 hours per week if working one shift, 38.75 hours if working two, or 37.5 hours if working three shifts. This is a problem, because many employers are not able to fit within these hours. For example, for a non-stop operating business, 37.5 hours represents an unevenly distributed working time. But the employers have to keep it," said Mária Svitková from the National Labour Inspectorate.

"By cutting temporary work contracts, they [authors of the law] believed that it would increase full-time work contracts. That's a big fallacy. I believe that they cut overtime, thinking that's going to create more full-time employment, but in the market conditions, it's exactly the opposite [effect]," added Garry Brown, managing director of Avon Slovakia, a branch of Kimberly-Clark.

The law has also been savaged for forcing employers to negotiate with elected employee representatives even at companies where the workforce is not organised. Even companies with less than 20 employees are required to elect such representatives to represent other workers and be informed of management decisions.

"This rule has run into problems in practice, because employees do not want to get elected to such functions," said Svitková. "They usually ask questions like: 'why should I get a function?' And employers ask what they should do in cases where employees do not want to be elected. Of course, they don't want to look like they are avoiding the law," she said.

Even if employees do agree to become elected representatives, or in larger companies to form labour councils, the law does not clearly define the rights of such bodies, leaving wrinkles on foreheads all around.

"Because the law doesn't say that the council is an information-sharing body, and because it doesn't define the limits of the information that is to be shared, it begins to infringe upon the right of the management to do its business," said Brown.

"The new law leaves everything so vague that it gives the impression this could be interpreted as something like co-management on a lot of major issues of the company. The only protection that was defined in the law is that members of the labour council need to promise to keep things confidential."

Many say the ultimate fate of the controversial law depends on the outcome of September parliamentary elections, and whether new legislators may be willing to think again.

"We'll see what the make-up of the next government is. Things are pretty much on hold right now. We'll try to look at it [the law] again in October or November. There will almost certainly be people in different positions in the Labour Ministry. We will try to work closely with them and see if there are some additional changes that can be made," said AmCham's Slegers.

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