UNIONS SAY WAGE FIGURES ARE DISTORTED, WORKERS STILL BELOW NATIONAL AVERAGE

Telecom sector still has highest wages

WHILE NOMINAL monthly wages in Slovakia are expected to show 10 per cent year-on-year growth for 2002, telecom workers continue to outpace the field with wages more than 60 per cent higher than the national average.
According to the Slovak Statistics Office, the nominal monthly wage in the telecom sector averaged Sk23,400 for the first eight months of 2002, compared to Sk13,700 for industry and services as a whole (see chart, right).
However, say analysts and labour representatives, the takeover of Slovakia's monopoly operator Slovak Telecom (ST) by German giant Deutsche Telekom (DT) has created a misleading picture: Managers' pay packets have swelled, while real wages for rank-and-file workers have declined, they say.

WHILE NOMINAL monthly wages in Slovakia are expected to show 10 per cent year-on-year growth for 2002, telecom workers continue to outpace the field with wages more than 60 per cent higher than the national average.

According to the Slovak Statistics Office, the nominal monthly wage in the telecom sector averaged Sk23,400 for the first eight months of 2002, compared to Sk13,700 for industry and services as a whole (see chart, right).

However, say analysts and labour representatives, the takeover of Slovakia's monopoly operator Slovak Telecom (ST) by German giant Deutsche Telekom (DT) has created a misleading picture: Managers' pay packets have swelled, while real wages for rank-and-file workers have declined, they say.

"The level of wages is related to the change of ownership in ST," said Ján Tóth, senior analyst at ING Bank, adding that while wages at ST were growing, the number of workers was falling.

"The average [telecom] wage may be significantly higher [than the national average wage], but that is not the case for regular workers in the telecom sector," said Ján Martinovič, chairman of the Post and Telecom Unions.

"A narrow range of people are influencing the average wage level overall. In reality, the average wage of regular employees is significantly lower than the official average for the sector - at around Sk14,000 [per month]. It is a certain group of top managers, some from DT, whose wages distort the data.

"Recently, real wages among blue-collar workers have actually fallen, because variable items in their wage packages were adjusted. So it could be said that wages in the telecom sector - already low - are even lower this year," said Martinovič.

Employment in the post and telecom sector has been dropping steadily over 2002, reaching a year-on-year decline of 6.8 per cent for the first eight months of the year. This is largely a result of restructuring at ST, as it prepares for market liberalisation and the end of its fixed-line monopoly in January 2003.

ST is expected to continue shedding workers as the opening of the market draws closer. Meanwhile, unions are pushing for higher wages, particularly at the lower end of the scale.

"In our proposal for a collective agreement for next year, we are planning wage increases, especially among workers who are not now earning the average wage," said Martinovič.

While acknowledging that telecom wages seem out of line with wages in other service sectors, analysts say the higher figures represent an increase in productivity, as foreign managers bring important know-how that has previously been lacking in the Slovak market.

"A bank could be a similar example: When it is bought by a foreign investor, the investor upgrades management skills, and wage growth reflects that," said Tóth.

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