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COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, WELFARE LAWS WILL SEE MAJOR SHIFT

Parliament overrides pair of vetoes

SLOVAKIA’S Smer-led parliament overrode presidential vetoes on a pair of laws giving extra muscle to unions and adding a work requirement for welfare recipients.

SLOVAKIA’S Smer-led parliament overrode presidential vetoes on a pair of laws giving extra muscle to unions and adding a work requirement for welfare recipients.

On November 26 and 27 MPs voted to override President Ivan Gašparovič’s vetoes and passed the laws unchanged from their original versions. Critics from the business community, who decry the law broadening collective bargaining rights, vow to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

That law extends the binding nature of higher level collective agreements to any firm employing more than 20 people in a given sector. Those firms need not have consented to the collectively bargained salaries previously.

Meanwhile, the amendment to the law on welfare, specifically so-called material payments, was authored by government proxy for Roma communities Peter Pollák. It stipulates that only people who spend 32 hours each month doing communal or voluntary work will get the €61.60 per month subsidy.

Collective bargaining

Gašparovič among others proposed that a wider group of firms be made exempt from the law of collective bargaining and suggested applying the new law to firms which employ more than 50 people, as opposed to the 20-person threshold in the new law.

Employer interest groups, foreign chambers of commerce and opposition politicians argue the law contradicts the constitution, weakens competitiveness and will lead to layoffs. Shortly after parliament swept aside the veto, the parties sheltered by the People’s Platform, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Most-Híd, said the law will end up at the Constitutional Court.

“The law goes against free competition, freedom of choice, and against sanity,” said SDKÚ Deputy Chairman Ivan Štefanec, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He also noted that the Czech Constitutional Court has already found a similar law unconstitutional.

By vetoing the law, the president met the objections put forth by AmCham in Slovakia, the National Union of Employers (RÚZ), the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Employers’ Associations (AZZZ) and the German-Slovak Chamber of Commerce (SNOPK), among others.

AmCham believes that the revision could lead to “additional financial burden for firms operating in Slovakia and will have a negative impact on the competitiveness of Slovak firms and put Slovakia as a destination for foreign investors at a disadvantage,” Jake Slegers, the executive director of AmCham, told The Slovak Spectator earlier in November.

SNOPK spokesman Markus Halt told The Slovak Spectator that extending a collective bargaining deal of a certain business sector to further companies without their consent violates the freedom of collective bargaining. Halt said the change “completely disregards economic disparities within the regions and unsettles the whole corporate sector, with medium-sized companies being affected the most”.

Working for welfare

The new work requirement to receive material need payments, which is meant to sustain work habits of the long-term unemployed, points to a deep gap between the social rhetoric of Robert Fico and an “asocial policy”, former prime minister Iveta Radičová said, according to the SITA newswire.

“The law is at odds with the constitution, which guarantees necessary help for those in material need,” Radičová said.

Gašparovič, after vetoing the law, proposed to withdraw small communal works from the list of chores people will have to do when asking for the benefit. According to him, people could get the subsidy when working as volunteers, preparing preventive measures to protect the municipality or doing clean-up after a natural disaster, SITA wrote.

The revised law stipulates that the main condition for receiving the benefit will be that the municipality offers the work to adults. If parents in a household do not take the municipality’s offer and do not work, the family will not get the activation benefits nor the basic material need benefit. The family would still be eligible to claim contribution for housing and child benefits. This means that for a four-member family where neither parent works, the social benefits will drop from the current €156 per month to €36, SITA reported.

The new law also abolishes the right to apply for the contribution to health-care treatment, which stands at €2 a month per every person in material need. Instead, the law introduces a special benefit at €63.07 a month for long-term unemployed who were receiving the benefit in material need before they start working.

The condition will stipulate that their salary must stand at least at the level of the minimum wage, but lower than three times the minimum wage. Households getting this subsidy will not receive the material need benefit. The family will get the benefit for no more than six months, SITA wrote.

Some MPs of the opposition SDKÚ, such as Viliam Novotný and Ľudovít Kaník, also spoke in favour of the law in parliament, with Novotný suggesting that “the goal of this governmental law is not to force someone to work” and that “it is very correct to divide people into those who cannot find a job and those who do not want to work”.

Both Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) leader Igor Matovič and Pollák supported the law.

Other opposition deputies want to file a complaint over the amendment to the Constitutional Court, the Sme daily wrote.

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