EMPLOYEES handed redundancy notices now have to choose between taking a cash payout and working out their notice.
Although STV officials have not published the names of workers to be laid off, 1,015 positions were cut on May 19. The broadcaster had just over 2,000 full-time staff at the beginning of 2003.
"From the first of June, only 800 to 850 internal employees will work at STV," said Branislav Záhradník, a member of STV's crisis management team, adding that those laid off had 14 days to chose to dissolve their contracts by agreement with the station or to be sacked according to the terms of Slovakia's labour law.
Those reaching agreement with the station will be entitled to severance pay of six to nine months' salary, as stipulated in the collective agreement between STV and its unions.
"Others will receive notices under which they have a three-month period [before being laid off], after which time they will receive severance payments of two months' salary, in accordance with the labour code," said Záhradník.
"Up to now, we have closed severance agreements with more than 10 percent of the total 1,015 employees [to be laid off]," said Záhradník.
STV director Richard Rybníček asked Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš in mid-May for Sk987 million (€24 million) from the state budget for one-off settlements of debts at the broadcaster. On May 21, the cabinet freed Sk250 million (€6 million) for STV from privatisation revenues to help cover the severance payments as well as losses at the station from previous years.
"It is very hard to say if the whole Sk250 million (€6 million) will be used, or if it will be Sk220 million or Sk230 million (€5.3 million or €5.6 million), because it depends on how many employees use their right to leave their jobs by agreement, and how many use up their period of notice," said Mikloš.
After taking over the management of STV in early 2003, Rybníček put monthly losses at the station at Sk20 million (€485,000) and said unpaid bills from 2002 exceeded Sk689 million (€17 million). He estimated that STV would have to cut spending this year by Sk76 million (€1.8 million) per month to break even by the beginning of 2004.
"We have made plans for the years 2004 to 2007 on the basis of which we can guarantee that STV will not operate with financial losses and will not need routine subsidies from the state," said Zahradník.
"The management of STV is interested in laying off people peacefully and [in such a way that] broadcast operations at STV are not disrupted," he said.
STV unions, however, have reacted angrily to the plan, initiating a petition to recall Rybníček, asking the Labour Inspectorate and the National Labour Office to investigate the layoffs, and threatening court action.
"We asked the government to consider if it is advantageous at this time to earmark this sum [for layoffs] when we have been warning that [the layoffs] break the law, and if it goes to court, it will cost STV a lot more money," said Gabriela Goliášová, head of the STV unions.
While union leaders say they are still negotiating with STV, employees facing layoffs have only until early June to decide whether or not to accept the station's severance offer. Union leadership has not directed members on how they should proceed, but has promised to pursue the issue through legal channels.
"First of all, we have to continue in a legal fashion through the courts. Whatever the court decides will be valid for employees, but the decision doesn't have to be definitive for us.
Whatever happens [in court], we are confidant that [we are] right and we have decided to take [the case] to the highest international court," said Goliášová.
A Bratislava district court has already examined STV's severance offer and decided that it is not in conflict with the labour law. However, state labour investigators say they will continue looking into union complaints about the layoffs.
"We will proceed according to the law, and if we find out that regulations have been broken, we will inform the unions and the public," said labour inspector Jozef Čapkovič.
2. Jun 2003 at 0:00 | Dewey Smolka