European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Latvia: background summary

Strikes in Latvia

  • Strikes in Latvia are a rather rare phenomenon except in some sectors. In Latvia strikes occur almost exclusively in the public sector, with the only major strikes in recent years taking place in the healthcare and education sectors. In fact, there is no information about any major strike taking place in the private sector since Latvia regained its independence in 1990. However, in contrast to strikes, demonstrations and other protest actions of various sizes are organised quite frequently.
  • Among the barriers to lawful strikes, as identified in 2010 in a Survey on violations of trade union rights, is the obligation to observe an excessive quorum or to obtain an excessive majority support for the strike action. The decision to strike must be taken by a majority at a meeting attended by at least 50% of all employees in company-wide strikes or 50% of members of the trade union in sector-wide strikes. Other restrictions concern the objectives of a strike. Solidarity strikes are considered illegal unless the dispute concerns a ‘general agreement’, i.e. a sectoral-level collective agreement. Since sectoral agreements are rare, this leads to strikes being even rarer. Political strikes are also illegal. Finally, there are restrictions to the right to strike for various groups of public servants (e.g. firefighters, police officers, judges, public prosecutors etc.). In 2014 the Constitutional Court ruled that the prohibition on border guards to form and join trade unions was incompatible with the Constitution; however, the prohibition of strike action was considered constitutional (case No. 2013-15-01). Finally, the list of ‘essential services’ that have to be ensured during a strike is very broad. According to the Act on Strikes it includes: medical and first aid services; public transportation services; drinking water supply services; services producing and supplying electrical energy and gas; communications services; air traffic control and the service supplying meteorological information to the air traffic control; services relating to the security of all kinds of transportation; waste and sewage collection and water purification services; radioactive goods and waste storage utilisation and control services; and civil protection services. This results in a de facto impossibility to strike in most sectors where the trade union coverage is considerable and where strikes could, in principle, be organised.
  • The process for notifying the authorities of a demonstration is much easier. The organiser must submit a notification of the approximate number of expected participants, the chosen route/area and other information in all cases where the event will likely disturb traffic. The grounds for prohibiting demonstrations are very limited; however, the municipality has the right to impose certain restrictions concerning the place, time and route of the demonstration. The municipality can prohibit the action only in cases where it is considered that it will endanger the security or welfare of other people or threaten the democratic system or public decency, and these ‘dangers’ cannot be avoided by imposing restrictions on the event.  
  • The Law on Strikes has not been amended since 2005 and the Law on Meetings, Processions and Pickets was last amended in 2013 with the introduction of more possibilities for the municipalities to restrict and limit demonstrations. This was partly done in response to the unprecedented demonstrations during the financial crisis that, however, would have been considered fairly insignificant by European standards (participation was estimated at around 20,000).