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Trade Unions

Union density in Croatia is close to the EU average with around a quarter of employees in unions. However, union organisation is fragmented with three nationally representative union confederations and many unions outside these larger bodies, although legislative changes have resulted in some consolidation.

There are no official figures on union density in Croatia, although a recent estimate places it at around 26%. [1] This suggests a total of some 300,000 trade unionists.


The latest official figures, published in July 2018 and relating to membership in November 2017, indicate that at that point there were 252,140 members in the three nationally representative trade union confederations[2] (see below for the rules on nationally representative trade unions), and there are many tens of thousands of trade unionists outside these three bodies.


This reflects the fact that the trade union movement in Croatia is fragmented (only 10 people are required to set up a trade union). Lists published by Ministry of Labour and Pensions System show that as of 30 July 2017, there were 328 unions registered nationally with the ministry – in other words operating in more than one of Croatia’s 21 counties – and 298 registered and operating in just a single county.[3] In addition, there were 23 higher level union organisations – bodies made up of at least two unions – including the three nationally representative confederations.[4]


Until 2013 there were five nationally representative union confederations. However, legislation, passed in July 2012 and July 2014,[5] tightened the rules on which bodies can be considered nationally representative.


Under the 2014 legislation, union confederations can only be considered nationally representative, and so have a right to participate in national tripartite bodies and have some specific collective bargaining rights (see section on collective bargaining), if they have:

  • union affiliates which together have at least 50,000 members;
  • at least five union affiliates operating in different areas of the economy;
  • regional offices or offices of its affiliated unions in at least four counties; and
  • the appropriate premises and material resources, including at least five full-time permanent employees, to carry out their activities.  


The three union confederations which have managed to clear all these hurdles and become nationally representative are:

  • SSSH with 94,622 members in 25 affiliated unions; it has regional offices in all 21 counties and 35 full-time employees;
  • the NHS, with 96,870 members in 59 affiliated unions;
  • MHS, also known as Matica, with 60,648 members in 26 unions; its teachers’ union affiliate has regional offices in four counties and it has five full time employees.


The figures relate to November 2017. Since then the police union with 13,000 members has affiliated to SSSH.[6]


There are also two union confederations, HURS (previously HUS) and the URSH confederation, which are not nationally representative and did not attempt to gain this status in 2018, presumably because they knew they would not meet the necessary conditions.


HURS was accepted as being nationally representative in 2012 when it was registered as having 54,009 members. It is possible that it will merge with MHS, as the leaders of the two confederations signed a cooperation agreement on 19 July 2018, under which the two unions aim to set a joint body within 12 months.[7] HURS has 55 affiliated unions.[8]  


The URSH confederation was treated as being nationally representative under the pre-2012 rules but lost this status when the membership threshold was increased from 15,000 to 50,000. Its current membership is unclear, although in the past it stated it had around 24,000 members. It has a cooperation agreement with MHS


There appear to be no major political divisions between the union confederations,[9]  although there is competition for unions between union confederations, and this may amplify the divisions that do exist. In the past, several unions have switched between union confederations, with the head of education at the SSSH, then the largest confederation, arguing that one reason for these switches was that individual unions were looking to save money. Facing falling membership they left the SSSH, which had a larger central staff and therefore higher affiliation fees and affiliated to other confederations with lower fees or remained unaffiliated to any confederations.[10] It is certainly noticeable from the latest figures that SSSH, with 35 employees, has a larger staff than either NHS with 11 or MHS with five.


Membership is considerably higher in the public sector than in the private sector. However, there are no overall official figures for union density in either sector.


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, before falling back to 423,964 in 2009 (although the numbers are affected by the number of confederations presenting figures). [11] By 2012, these numbers had fallen to 328,518, and currently, based on 2017 figures, there are just 252,140 members in the three nationally representative trade union confederations. However, these statistics do not include members of unions not affiliated to a national confederation or affiliated to one not seeking national representative status. They therefore substantially understate union membership.


Despite this it seems that union density is falling in Croatia, with a recent estimate suggesting that while union density had been stable at some 35% for around 15 years up to 2009, it had subsequently fallen and by 2014 was about 26%, a fall of a quarter in just five years.[12]  


There are no official figures on women’s membership of unions, but the SSSH estimates that 40% of its members are women.[13]

[1] Esitimate by Dragan Bagić, quoted in Annual Review 2018 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Croatia by Darko Seperic, Friedric-Ebert-Stiftung http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/15355.pdf (Accessed 17.07.2019)

[2] Rješenje Povjerenstva za utvrđivanje reprezentativnosti, Rarodne Novine, 7 July 2018, https://narodne-novine.nn.hr/clanci/sluzbeni/2018_07_59_1243.html and SSSH i dalje reprezentativan za sudjelovanje u tripartitnim tijelima na nacionalnoj razini, SSSH   http://www.sssh.hr/hr/vise/nacionalne-aktivnosti-72/sssh-i-dalje-reprezentativan-za-sudjelovanje-u-tripartitnim-tijelima-na-nacionalnoj-razini-3491

[3] Popis sindikata registriranih u Ministarstvu rada i mirovinskoga sustava http://www.mrms.hr/ministarstvo-rada-i-mirovinskoga-sustava/socijalno-partnerstvo/katalog-zakona-i-propisa/popis-sindikata-registriranih-u-ministarstvu-rada-i-mirovinskoga-sustava/ (Accessed 17.07.2019) and Popis sindikata registriranih u uredima državne uprave u županiji, odnosno uredu Grada Zagreba nadležnim za poslove rada http://www.mrms.hr/ministarstvo-rada-i-mirovinskoga-sustava/socijalno-partnerstvo/katalog-zakona-i-propisa/popis-sindikata-registriranih-u-uredima-drzavne-uprave-u-zupaniji-odnosno-uredu-grada-zagreba-nadleznim-za-poslove-rada/ (Accessed 17.07.2019)

[4] Popis sindikata više razine registriranih u Ministarstvu rada i mirovinskoga sustava  http://www.mrms.hr/ministarstvo-rada-i-mirovinskoga-sustava/socijalno-partnerstvo/katalog-zakona-i-propisa/popis-udruga-sindikata-vise-razine-registriranih-u-ministarstvu-rada-i-mirovinskoga-sustava/   

[5] Zakon o kriterijima za sudjelovanje u tripartitnim tijelima i reprezentativnosti za kolektivno pregovaranje, NN 82/12 and Zakon o reprezentativnosti udruga poslodavaca i sindikata, NN 93/14,

[6] Annual Review 2018 of Labour Relations and Social Dialogue: Croatia by Darko Seperic, Friedric-Ebert-Stiftung http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/bratislava/15355.pdf (Accessed 17.07.2019)

[7] See websites of MHS https://www.matica-sindikata.hr/matica-hrvatskih-sindikata-i-hrvatska-udruga-radnickih-sindikata-sklopile-sporazum-o-otvaranju-procesa-udruzivanja-u-zajednicku-sindikalnu-sredisnjicu/ and HURS http://hurs.eu/sporazum-o-otvaranju-procesa-udruzivanja-u-zajednicku-sindikalnu-sredisnjicu/ (Accessed 02.12.2018)

[8] HURS Website http://hurs.eu/udruzeni-sindikati/ (Accessed 02.12.2018)

[9] See Croatia: industrial relations profile, by Danijel Nestić, Eurofound, 2014, by Predrag Bejaković and Irena Klemenčić http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/country/croatia.htmhttp://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/comparative-information/national-contributions/croatia/croatia-industrial-relations-profile (Accessed 16.04.2015)

[10] See Annual Reviews on Labour Relations and Social Dialogue in South East Europe: Croatia (2009 to 2012) by Ana Milićević Pezeli, 2011 to 2013 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

[11] See The effects of the economic crisis on industrial relations in Croatia, by Hrvoje Butković, Višnja Samardžija and Sanja Tišma, 2012, quoting a presentation by the then Minister of Labour Marko Krištof in May 2012

[12] Industrial relations in Croatia and impacts of digitalisation on the labour market, by Višnja Samardžija, Hrvoje Butković and Ivana Skazlić, IMRO, 2017

[13] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2018 – 11th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, 2018

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.