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Trade Unions

The proportion of employees in trade unions is relatively high in Slovenia, at between 25% and 30%. The union structure is fragmented, with seven separate union confederations, although one of them, ZSSS, is clearly dominant.

Competition between trade unions makes it difficult to provide precise figures on trade union membership in Slovenia. There are no official figures on trade union density, but the Public Opinion Research Centre (PORC) at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana has regularly surveyed employees on their union membership. The latest figures from 2008 indicate that union density at that point was 26.6%. 1 This is slightly higher than the latest estimate from the ICTWSS database of union membership, which put union density in Slovenia at 24.4% in 2011,2 while the main union confederation ZSSS states on its website that union density is “over 27%”. 3 With around 770,000 employees in Slovenia, 27% union density is equivalent to some 210,000 people, although the total figure for union membership is likely to be higher, taking account of members who are unemployed or pensioners.

The Slovenian trade union movement is highly fragmented, with seven union confederations as well as several autonomous unions.

The largest confederation is ZSSS, which according its own website has 300,000 members, including the unemployed and pensioners, and according to figures produced by Miroslav Stanojević of the Faculty of Social Science it has some 155,000 members.4 It is organised in 22 federations: seven in industry, six in private services, six in the public sector and three covering other groups, such as pensioners. The largest federation in ZSSS is SKEI, which organises in the metal and electrical engineering industry and has 35,000 members.

ZSSS grew from the trade union structures that had existed before Slovenian independence in 1991, but it began to face competition in the early 1990s. A new trade union confederation KNSS was set up in 1990 and two others KSS Pergam and Konfederacija ‘90 broke away from ZSSS. While KNSS was formed as part of a political opposition to ZSSS – in general it takes a more right-wing approach on most issues – the other confederations were originally more narrowly based. KSS Pergam began as an organisation concentrating on graphical and paper workers, although now its membership is wider, and Konfederacija ‘90 was concentrated in the west of the country.

Later two new confederations emerged, Alternativa, primarily representing transport worker unions formerly in KNSS in 1999, and Solidarnost in 2000.

The main strength of these confederations is in manufacturing industry and more traditional trade union areas such as transport.

A large part of the public sector workforce is organised in unions outside these confederations, and in 2006 five of the largest unions in the public sector came together to form a new confederation KSJS. (They have since been joined by two other smaller unions.) KSJS states it has 73,400 members. The largest union within KSJS is the teachers’ union SVIZ, which has 39,100 members (figures from KSJS website). Stanojević estimates the KSJS has between 60,000 and 70,000 members.

In addition there are a large number of autonomous unions, which have membership in specific areas.

The majority of trade union membership is concentrated in the two biggest confederations, ZSSS and KSJS, and the Institute of Social Sciences estimates that 90% of all union members are in these two plus KNSS and Pergam.

The law allows unions to gain representative status, and, although this is not necessary in order to negotiate, representative unions have a number of advantages. For example, only agreements reached by representative unions can be extended to those not directly involved in the negotiations (see section on collective bargaining). In order to be judged representative, a union must, among other formal requirements, show that it is financially independent and has existed for at least six months. A union confederation covering the whole country must also have 10% of the employees in membership in the industries, businesses or professions where it seeks to be representative. A union operating on its own must have 15% of the employees in membership in an industry, business, profession or local area in order to be representative there. The decision as to whether a union is representative is taken by the minister on the basis of evidence provided by the union, although where a union is seeking to be representative at purely company (business) level, the decision is taken by the employer.

All seven confederations are considered to be representative at national level, as well as in a number of activities and professions. The extent to which the confederations are representative across different parts of the economy varies significantly. While 19 unions affiliated to ZSSS are listed as representative, covering activities from fire fighting to metal and electronics, the confederation Alternativa is representative only for land transport and water traffic, and Solidarnost only for the production of motor vehicles and trailers and railway operations. There are also 35 other individual unions who are representative in particular industries and professions. These include the railway workers unions SDZDS and SZPS, the doctors’ union FIDES and the banking union SBS.5

The seven confederations that are representative at national level sit on the tripartite economic and social council, the ESS, made up of representatives of the unions, employers and the government. ZSSS has two seats; all the others have only one each.

The relationships between the confederations, particularly between ZSSS and KNSS, have at times been difficult. However, in 2006 after 15 years of negotiations, all seven plus 17 autonomous unions reached agreement on the division of the trade union assets that were in the hands of the single union confederation before independence.

Union membership has declined since independence in 1991, when around 60% of employees were in unions. However, there has also been a change in the balance of union membership, with unions in the public sector maintaining membership while the unions in manufacturing have lost members.

L. Fulton (2013) 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.