European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Industrial relations in Slovakia - background summary (updated March 2019)

  • Trade union membership in Slovakia was estimated at 11.2% in 2015 (ILO estimate) or 10.9 % of the workforce estimated by OECD and appears to be continuously declining since the 1990s.
  • There are an estimated 290,000 trade union members in Slovakia (2019 estimate).
  • The dominant trade union confederation in Slovakia is the KOZ SR (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic), the Slovak successor of the Czechoslovak union confederation ČSKOS (Československá konfederácia odborových zväzov), which was founded in March 1990 after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989. According to the latest Eurofound figures, it had 231,000 members in 2016 (Cziria 2018).
  • In 2019, KOZ SR has 24 sectoral trade union federations as members. The largest and most influential is the metalworkers’ union, OZ KOVO. OZ KOVO reported 69,518 members in 2011. It is estimated that the 2019 membership is substantially lower. One of the reasons for this fall is the fact that in 2017, the company-level trade union at Volkswagen Bratislava, one of the key automotive producers in Slovakia with a well-unionized workforce, withdrew its membership from OZ KOVO. This organization had at that time around 7,500 employees of VW.
  • Besides other confederations, including NKOS (Nezávislé kresťanské odbory Slovenska, Independent Christian Trade Union of Slovakia) with around 5,000 members in 2016 and VSOZ (Všeobecný slobodný odborový zväz, General Free Trade Union Association) with about 2,000 members in 2016 (Czíria 2018), 2018 saw the emergence of a new trade union confederation SOS (Spoločné odbory Slovenska, United trade unions of Slovakia). SOS brings together six trade union organizations that emerged in the past decade as an alternative to the already established union organizations in their respective sectors. They characterise themselves as ‘new’ or ‘modern’ trade unions and they joined forces to strengthen SOS to become a confederation that will engage in sectoral collective bargaining, influence national-level policy making and establish an alternative to the monopoly role of KOZ SR in the Slovak trade union landscape.
  • Collective bargaining alternates between company, multi-employer and sectoral bargaining. Sectoral and multi-employer bargaining still dominate in terms of bargaining coverage (also thanks to erga omnes extension mechanism), but company-level bargaining increases in importance. This is because relevant regulation of working conditions and wages is subject to bargaining precisely at the company level, while sector and multi-employer collective agreements provide only a regulatory framework with limited impact on working conditions. In sum, Slovakia has been facing bargaining decentralisation.
  • All multi-employer and sectoral collective agreements are subject to registration at the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. In early 2019, there are 20 registered sectoral collective agreements. In 2016, 11.5 percent of medium-sized and large enterprises were covered by a sectoral agreement (KOZ 2017). There is, however, some variation between sectors: in the electricity, construction and financial sectors 40 to 60 percent of companies are covered by a sector-level agreement, while in manufacturing, retail or transportation only 10 percent of companies are covered (see the forthcoming ETUI book on collective bargaining).
  • The issue of the extension of sectoral level agreements has been politically controversial. As a reaction to a ruling of the Slovak Constitutional Court from 2016, new regulation of the extension mechanism was introduced in 2017.  The new mechanism allows for an “automatic extension” if both partners, the employers and the trade union, agree on the extension to the whole sector. The decisive indicator for the extension is the NACE code classification of activity of a particular company. If a sectoral collective agreement is concluded for a particular sector, and at the same time it is approved as a representative collective agreement, it might be extended. Representativeness of a collective agreement according to the new legislation relates to the representativeness of the concluding parties: trade unions are established in at least 30% of companies that are members of the employers´ association that signed the sectoral collective agreement. If more than one sectoral collective agreement is signed, the agreement that covers more employees may be extended.
  • Only 7 agreements underwent the procedure of extension of bargaining coverage. Although these cover some key sectors of the Slovak economy (e.g., metalworking, steel, electronics, chemicals, construction and transport), the extension applies only to a limited number of NACE codes and does not significantly increase the overall bargaining coverage.
  • By contrast, the number of companies that have signed company-level agreements is higher: 32% of companies had a valid collective agreement in 2016. Single-employer or company agreements concluded at the company level can derogate from sectoral agreements only upwards, i.e., in favour of employees at the company level.  At the same time, sectoral and multi-employer collective agreements should not contradict the generally binding legal regulation. Legislation sets minimum standards for both sector and company-level agreements. If a sector collective agreement exists, it sets the minimum standard for company-level collective agreements.
  • A tripartite committee, the Economic and Social Council (HSR), exists at the national level, with representatives of employers’ organisations, trade unions and government. The committee can be considered as an advisory body to the government because it can adopt only non-legally binding recommendations. The committee is an important body for discussing employment issues, labour law or minimum wage, but its role is mostly consultative, discussing legislative proposals and evaluating their economic and social impact.
  • At the company level, the two main parties are the employer and the workplace union group. If there are several trade unions in the company, and they are negotiating for the whole workforce, they have to agree completely, unless some other arrangements have been made. If they cannot agree, the employer has the right to negotiate with the union that has the largest number of members at the workplace, or with a group of unions, if they have more members together than the union with the highest number of members. The resulting signed collective agreement covers the whole workforce.
  • The key issue for negotiations, particularly at company level, is pay. However, negotiations also cover issues such as working conditions, health and safety and trade union rights and facilities.
  • Until 2002, local trade union bodies were the only organisations legally entitled to represent employees in the workplace. Works councils were introduced in 2002 only in companies without trade union representatives and expanded in 2003 to all workplaces including those with unions. Works councils can be established if 10% of workers employed in the company request it. In companies with more than 50 employees, regular works councils are established, while in the companies with less than 50 employees a single ´works trustee´ is elected. Works councils are responsible for information and consultation, but they are not allowed to conduct collective bargaining.
  • According to the European Company Survey 2013, only 11% of workplaces have a local trade union, but they cover 40% of the employees, and 14% of companies have a works council (covering 16% of the employees) (ECS 2013).
  • By law, employee representatives have a right to sit on the supervisory board of private sector companies. They are entitled to one-third of the seats in companies with more than 50 employees, provided some other conditions are met, and to half of the seats in state-owned companies.

 

To sum up, industrial relations still play a significant role in forming labour market reforms and changes, despite declining trade union membership . Nevertheless, the strategies of social partners are shifting towards legislative proposals, which might in the future further undermine the institution of collective bargaining as such. In recent years, the position of social partners has stabilized and we have not seen any significant reforms in terms of social dialogue structures or social partners position. The only exception is the issue of extension of multi-employer collective agreements that was induced by the Constitutional court decision. The mechanism was modified to satisfy the objections of the court and is now applied in practice.

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