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CABINET BACKS OFF FROM EFFORTS TO ABOLISH LAW ON TRIPARTITE WITH UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS

Redrawing the union board game

THE RULES governing the discussion of laws between the state, employers, and employees through their representative groups are to be revised, cabinet ministers agreed on May 5.
Economy Minister Pavol Rusko and Labour Minister Ľudovít Kaník will shortly prepare an in-depth revision of the law on tripartite, which obliges the cabinet to negotiate laws with trade unions and employers.
Modification of the law to what Rusko described at a press conference as a more open and voluntary forum in which the cabinet will set the themes of dialogue is a softening of Rusko's initial plan to abolish tripartite for good.

THE RULES governing the discussion of laws between the state, employers, and employees through their representative groups are to be revised, cabinet ministers agreed on May 5.

Economy Minister Pavol Rusko and Labour Minister Ľudovít Kaník will shortly prepare an in-depth revision of the law on tripartite, which obliges the cabinet to negotiate laws with trade unions and employers.

Modification of the law to what Rusko described at a press conference as a more open and voluntary forum in which the cabinet will set the themes of dialogue is a softening of Rusko's initial plan to abolish tripartite for good.

Rusko presented the original plan two days before the meeting of the cabinet in reaction to the announcement of Ivan Saktor, head of the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ), that his confederation was concluding a strategic partnership with the opposition party Smer.

Saktor also said that the unions would assist the left-wing party in its preparations for the next parliamentary elections.

Smer is a major force in Slovakia pushing for early elections, and party chairman Robert Fico has his eye set on the seat of prime minister. With the massive help of the KOZ, the two partners also initiated and encouraged the referendum on early elections in April this year, which failed due to a low turnout.

The KOZ's statement that Smer is their strategic partner angered Rusko, who declared that the trade unions have joined with opposition politics.

"KOZ president Ivan Saktor said clearly that he would go with the Smer party," Rusko said on May 3.

While Fico labelled Rusko's plan an act of revenge against the KOZ because it disagreed with several proposed cabinet plans, the KOZ defended itself with the argument that none of its leaders wanted to gain political positions from Smer if it becomes a ruling party in the future. Emil Machyňa, head of the KOVO, the biggest trade union within the KOZ, told the state-run news agency TASR that similar connections between political parties and trade unions were common in the states of western Europe as well.

"The cabinet will not tell us which political party we should work with," Machyňa said.

Analyst Darina Malová, a specialist on trade-union politics from Comenius University in Bratislava, sided with the unions on this point.

"Cooperation with political parties is indeed a normal and legitimate thing. The KOZ then only has to count on the possibility that its membership base, currently at about 500,000 people, will shrink because not all KOZ members favour Smer," Malová told The Slovak Spectator on May 6.

According to the analyst, the departure of some KOZ members may lead to the creation of alternative unions.

Rusko's new discussion framework involves inviting more than just the KOZ and the employers' association to tripartite meetings.

Malová described the plan as "an effort by the cabinet to reach a solution that would, to a greater extent, reflect its own ideological views, which are more right-wing".

It is important to bear in mind, she said, that it was the first Mikuláš Dzurinda cabinet, which came to power in 1998, that "gave the KOZ the law on tripartite in exchange for their support for [his movement, which was] in the opposition in the 1998 national elections."

Before 1999, tripartite in Slovakia had worked without a legal foundation on a so-called gentlemen's agreement, but towards the end of the third Vladimír Mečiar cabinet, later replaced by the Dzurinda cabinet, communication was virtually non-existent.

According to Malová, abolishing trade unions would "not be a wise move from the cabinet" either.

"Once the law on tripartite is here, it should be improved rather than abolished.

Moreover, the cabinet has probably realised that if it abolished tripartite, it would only play into the hands of Fico and the rest of the opposition.

The cabinet would risk even greater unpopularity, thought it is not very popular anyway, because of its reforms," Malová said.

Kaník said that he and Rusko would shortly prepare the revision of the tripartite law.

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