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STRIKES IN SLOVAKIA: BACKGROUND SUMMARY (updated April 2019)

The right to strike is guaranteed by the Slovakian Constitution, the country’s Labour Code and international agreements as one of its citizens’ fundamental rights. However, the incidence of strikes is very low in Slovakia due to the absence of a long missing tradition of industrial action. There have been no changes concerning the right to strike over the past ten years.

  • Besides the general right to strike in the case of a discrepancy between employee and employer interests, there are more specific strike rules provided by Act No. 2/1991 Coll., on collective bargaining, which stipulates that a strike is legal if it concerns conflicts over the conclusion of a collective agreement and only if other options for settling the industrial conflict have failed. Several professions (judges, members of armed forces, firefighters, etc.) are excluded from the right to strike.
  • Strikes that do not concern the conclusion of a collective agreement are not specifically regulated by law. Although such strikes are not defined as legal by the Act on collective bargaining they are, equally,  not necessarily considered to be illegal either, due to the guarantees in the Constitution. Thus, political strikes are relatively popular among trade unionists. However, the missing regulations results in legal uncertainty and frequent legal disputes concerning the legitimacy of strikes (Zachar 2012).
  • The employer is obliged to justify the absence of the employee at the time of his/her participation in the strike-related to the exercise of his/her economic and social rights; neither wage nor wage compensation belongs to the employee for the time spent in the strike. If the court declares the strike illegal, the absence of the employee at work while participating in a strike, is considered unjustified (§ 141, paragraph 8 of the Labour Code). This is considered as a breach of the work discipline, and the organising trade unions are responsible for the losses incurred by the strike.
  • According to the law on collective bargaining, before calling a strike, trade unions have to try to resolve the dispute through conciliation. If conciliation fails, all parties can decide either to ask for an arbitrator or trade unions can call a strike and employers can use a lockout (Cziria 2018). For a strike to be legal, trade unions must organise a secret ballot, in which more than 50% of employees of the relevant establishment(s) have to participate, and they have to receive the support of the majority of the voting employees.
  • Trade unions can decide on different types of the strike, which is usually stopping work and only rarely to work to rule. Before going on strike, trade unions used to declare a strike alert or call a short-time warning strike to put pressure on the employer when bargaining. A strike can be considered illegal if it is not preceded by a formal claim for a collective agreement and an attempt at conciliation (apart from solidarity strikes) if it takes place while the collective agreement is still valid on the issue or if the arbitration process has started (Cziria 2018).
  • The strike has to be announced by trade unions in writing at least three working days before its commencement. The announcement must include information on the schedule of the strike, its reasons and goals, and a list of trade unionists who represent its participants (see Act No. 2/1991 Coll., on collective bargaining). The stoppage of work is the most common form of industrial action in Slovakia; other forms of strikes are rare.
  • In addition to these tools, internal mechanisms/rules for conflict resolution can be agreed in collective agreements to prevent open conflicts. Internal mechanisms are usually agreed in collective agreements. In multiemployer collective agreements, bilateral parity committees are usually established to deal with disputes (Cziria 2018).
  • The fight for wage increases and employee benefits are the most frequent causes for strikes, followed by the fight against redundancies, the ambition to improve working conditions, and protests against personal changes in the management. Some strikes aim at more general issues such as protests against the government’s reforms.
  • Since the introduction of basic rules for strikes at the beginning of the 1990s, the strike-related legislation has been very stable, and there have not been significant changes to the right to strike and the related conditions.
  • In 2012 the government presented a bill aiming at limiting the right to strike in the case of medical staff in reaction to physicians’ protests in 2011. However, the bill was not approved due to the fall of the government and subsequent early elections.
  • One of the main issues is the legal subjectivity of different employee representatives because only trade unions are entitled to declare and to coordinate strikes, whereas works councils and other employee representatives do not have such rights, although their competencies have increased over the past few years (Zachar 2012).
  • Slovakia belongs to the group of EU countries with the lowest incidence of strike activity, and public support for strikes has been decreasing over the past 25 years. There is around one strike every year, with less than four hours lost on average, but there are many years with no significant strikes at all (cf. Zachar 2012). Based on the statistical inquiry of the Slovak Statistical Office, in the period 1992-2017 there have been 34 strikes in Slovakia which is relatively low level in comparison for example to Hungary (167) (KOZ SR 2019).
  • As to the sectors, between 1992 and 2017, most strikes were in transport and storage industry (9 strikes), industrial production (8 strikes), education (5 strikes), health and social services (4 strikes) (KOZ SR 2019).
  • In terms of the number of employees involved, the most significant strikes were in the education sector in 2012, involving 61,405 employees (estimating value), and in transport and storage (18 326) in 2003. The number of workers involved in the strike is an absolute figure that does not take into account what percentage of the total number of workers participated in the strike, so even a lower number of workers involved may be significant in terms of the size of the employer. In terms of days not worked, the most lasting strikes were the strikes in 2016-15 days and in 2006, in total 14 days (KOZ SR 2019).
  • The low number of strikes has to be seen in relation to other disputes resolutions mechanisms, such as conciliations and arbitrations (by the Act No. 2/1991 Coll.) that can result in collective agreements and prevent further conflict. The number of officially registered disputes mechanisms by the Ministry of Labour Social Affairs and Family in 2012-2017 was 81, with the domination of consolation cases (Cziria 2018).

 

Relevant strikes in 2016 – 2017:

The number of strikes increased in the public sector in response to post-crisis austerity (Kahancová, Martišková 2016), mainly in the health and education sectors. The strike in the education sector in 2016 was a result of three-years of wage freezes as a response to post-crisis austerity measures and series of strikes in 2012-2013. The teachers and employees in education were organised in several associations with diverse demands. In January 2016, several secondary schools started to be closed expressing dissatisfaction with the 4% rise of wages agreed by the official trade unions (Kahancová, Martišková, Sedláková 2017). More than 14,500 teachers from about 950 schools participated in the strike requesting appropriate funding, a new conception of the educational system and the improvement of the prestige of the profession (ISU, Iniciatíva slovenských učiteľov). Additional waves of strikes went on in September 2016, when 1,790 teachers from 108 schools did not work for one lesson. The protest should have been continued each week by increasing the number of hours not working.  This was not supported by the trade unions because they had agreed in increase of the salary tariffs by 25% in 2017 and by 10% each year afterwards ( Cziria, Grandtnerová 2016).

 

In 2017, a strike at Volkswagen (VW), involving 8,500 workers, went on after pay negotiations failed. Modern Trade Unions Volkswagen (MOV), the VW workers' union, had called for a 16% wage rise. The strike resulted in a dramatic drop in production and ended by signing a collective agreement. The wage tariffs increased in three years, employees obtained a lump sum of €500 and one additional day of paid holiday in 2018–2019. The strike has been the most significant strike in a private company to date. Its results could also play an important role in the context of the national labour market (Cziria, Bednárik 2017).

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