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Trade Unions

Union density is well above the EU average in Croatia with more than a third of employees in unions. However, union organisation is fragmented with four nationally representative union confederations and some unions outside these larger bodies, although recent legislative changes have resulted in a significant consolidation.

Figures collected by the government in 2009 indicate that at that point Croatian unions had at least 423,964 members, equivalent to a union density of 35%, well above the EU average of around 23%. 1

However, the trade union movement is fragmented (only 10 people are required to set up a trade union). An explanatory note to new legislation being introduced in 2014, states that there are 621 separate unions in the country, more than half of which (313) operate in only one of Croatia’s 21 counties. In addition there are 26 higher level union organisations (bodies made up of at least two unions), although three of these operate only in a single county. 2

These higher level bodies include four union confederations which are nationally representative. In other words, they have the right to participate in the tripartite economic and social council and other tripartite national bodies (such as the national pensions fund and the employment service).


Until 2013 there were five nationally representative union confederations. However, legislation, passed in July 20123 , which established new rules on which unions have the right to take part in the national tripartite bodies, led to a consolidation at national level.4


Before the 2012 legislation was introduced, the criteria for determining which union confederations were considered nationally representative were not very demanding. They required only that a confederation should have at least five union affiliates, that its affiliates should have a total of at least 15,000 members and that the confederation or its affiliates should operate in at least 11 counties. However, the 2012 legislation sets out more stringent conditions. (There are also changes in the rules for employers’ associations.)




Under the 2012 rules, a nationally representative confederation must have affiliates operating in at least five different areas of the economy; it, or its affiliates, must have offices in at least four counties; it must have been officially registered for at least six months; it must have sufficient resources to employ at least five people directly; and, most important of all, its affiliated unions must have at least 50,000 members.




The implementation of this law has had a clear impact. It has directly resulted in one of the five formerly nationally represented union confederations ceasing to be so; it has strengthened what is now, once again, the largest confederation and, as a by-product, it has produced new figures on union membership, because union confederations who wanted to been seen as representative at national level had to submit membership details to a special commission.




The figures, published in March 2013, show that only four union confederations had managed to clear the 50,000 members hurdle and become nationally representative.



These are the SSSH, with 99,682 members in its 20 affiliated unions (subsequently increased to 123,465 in 23 unions – see below), the NHS, with 116,837 members in 59 affiliated unions, the MHS, also known as Matica, with 57,990 members in 10 unions and the HURS (previously HUS), with 54,009 members in 57 unions.5

The URSH confederation, which previously was treated as the fifth nationally representative confederation, lost this status under the new rules. It is estimated to have around 24,000 members and so, although it was above the previous 15,000 threshold, it now falls below the 50,000 cut-off point. It has 46 affiliated unions.6


The SSSH has strengthened its position subsequent to the count of union membership, which took place at the end of 2012. Three additional unions, with around 24,000 members, joined the SSSH in May 2013, taking its total membership to 123,465 and making it once again the largest Croatian confederation. The three unions were all in the health and social services sector and include the SSZSSH union, which has around 18,000 members.




This is a reversal of the previous trend, which saw unions leaving the SSSH, either to join other confederations, primarily MHS (Matica), or to remain outside all the confederations. Three unions left SSSH in 2009, and another four in 2010, including the health and social services union SSZSSH and the agriculture and food union PPDIV, which with around 30,000 members, is one of the largest unions in the country. As a result the SSSH, which was the largest confederation with 164,732 members in 2009, saw its membership fall to around 100,000 by 2011.



In a series of reports the head of education at the SSSH argues that one reason for these disaffiliations is that individual unions have responded to the challenge of falling membership by leaving the SSSH, which has a larger central staff and therefore higher affiliation fees and affiliating to other confederations with lower fees or remaining unaffiliated to any confederations, what she calls “trade union dumping". 7


However this is not always the reason for disaffiliations, as in 2011 five unions left MHS (Matica) because of policy differences. Those leaving included the health and social services union SSZSSH, which had left SSSH to join MHS (Matica) the year before.




SSZSSH is now back with SSSH, as is the agricultural and food union PPDIV, and it may be that the new rules, in particular the need to have at least 50,000 members and at least five full-time employees to be considered nationally representative, will slow or reverse the moves to increased union fragmentation.



One indication of the impact of the changes in the rules is provided by the actions of the smallest nationally representative confederation HURS (formerly HUS). In April 2012, it agreed to begin moving towards merger with the SSSH confederation. However, in January 2013, HUS withdrew from the plan, and at its congress in June 2013 it changed its name to HURS and formally altered its statutes to make it easier to merge with the smaller URSH confederation, from which it had “borrowed” two unions in order to clear the 50,000 member hurdle. Both confederations apparently feared that without a merger they would be marginalised.8 However, this planned merger had still not taken place by mid-2014.



There appear to be no major political divisions between the union confederations8 although competition for members between union confederations may amplify the divisions that do exist.



There are however, differences in the level of activity at confederation level. While SSSH has 49 full-time employees (it had more than 100 in 2010), NHS with a similar level of membership has only 11, and MHS (Matica), with around half the membership has only five.9

Most union confederations have members in both the private and public sectors, although both MHS (Matica) and URSH primarily organise in the public sector, while the HUS has a greater membership in industry and the private sector. Union membership is higher in the public sector than in the private sector, with one expert estimating union density in the public sector at 68%, compared with a private sector density of 17% (split between the formerly state-owned but now privatised companies, where 31% of employees are in unions, and newly established companies, where union density is just 9%). 10

However, these are estimates, as no overall official figures are collected.


Unions generally appear to have lost membership in recent years, although the lack of precise data makes it difficult to judge. The figures collected for the purpose of establishing whether a union confederation has sufficient members to be nationally representative show the numbers rising from 440,439 in 2000, to 456,793 in 2004 (when a sixth confederation with 20,099 members was also seeking national representative status), before falling back to 423,964 in 2009 (when again it was only five). However, these statistics do not include members of unions which do not belong to union confederations seeking national representative status, and so do not give a complete picture.

which established new rules on which unions have the right to take part in the national tripartite bodies, led to a consolidation at national leve

L. Fulton (2015) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.