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Trade Unions

Around a fifth of employees in Slovenia are organised in trade unions. The union structure is fragmented, with seven separate union confederations, although one of them, ZSSS, is clearly dominant.

There are no official figures on trade union density, but the Centre for Public Opinion Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana regularly surveys the population on a range of issues including union membership. The results for 2019 show total union membership accounting for 17.8% of the active population, which includes the self-employed and the unemployed.[1] If the figure were calculated just in relation to employees – the more usual measure of union density – the percentage would be slightly higher. With around one million economically active – the exact number varies depending on how it is measured, these figures suggest that in total there are around 180,000 trade unionists in Slovenia.


The estimate from the independent ICTWSS database of industrial relations statistics, which draws on the 2015 figures from the Centre for Public Opinion Research, puts union density in Slovenia at 20.4% in 2016.[2] The latest Eurofound report on Slovenia does not make a separate estimate, instead quoting the ICTWSS figures.[3]


The Slovenian trade union movement is highly fragmented, with seven main union confederations as well as many autonomous unions competing for membership. This makes it difficult to provide precise figures on membership in individual union bodies.


The largest confederation is ZSSS, which, on the basis of figures provided to the ETUC’s annual gender equality audit, had around130,000 members in 2019.[4] However, as detailed study of the Slovenian trade union movement since independence points out, this figure (like the figures from other union bodies) is difficult to reconcile with the survey figures from the Centre for Public Opinion Research.[5] This study suggests that, although the ZSSS is the largest trade union confederation in Slovenia, accounting for two-fifths of all union members, its membership is more likely to be around 70,000. The study explains the difference between this figure and the declared membership through the inclusion of individuals who do not pay union subscriptions in the declared membership, as well as union members identifying as members of individual union federations rather than the confederation in the survey.  


The ZSSS 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. The figures from the Centre for Public Opinion Research indicate that SKEI had around 18,000 members in 2015, accounting for around a quarter of the membership of ZSSS.


ZSSS was established in 1990 and grew from the trade union structures that had existed before Slovenian independence in 1991, but it faced competition from the start. A new trade union confederation KNSS - Neodvisnost was created in 1990 and two others KSS Pergam and Konfederacija ‘90 broke away from ZSSS shortly afterwards. 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, which was established in 1991, began as an organisation concentrating on graphical and paper workers, although now its membership is wider, with affiliated unions in both the public and private sector. Konfederacija ’90, also set up in 1991, was initially concentrated in the west of the country.


Later two new confederations emerged. SZS-Alternativa, primarily representing transport worker unions formerly in KNSS – Neodvisnost,  was founded in 1999, and in 2020 had 13 affiliated unions. Solidarnost, which has significant membership in motor manufacturing and rail transport, was set up in 2000.


The Centre for Public Opinion Research has provided figures on the membership of some of these smaller confederations, most recently in its 2019 survey.[6] KSS Pergam appears to be the largest, accounting for 3.7% of total union membership, based on the economically active population, probably around 7,000 individuals. The others are smaller with 0.7% of union members in KNSS – Neodvisnost and the same proportion in Konfederacija ‘90, in other words about 1,300 in each. However, it is difficult to be certain as a third of the responses to the survey (33.5%) are categorised under “other” unions.


The largest union body outside ZSSS is not among this group. It is a more recent confederation, KSJS, formed in 2006, when five of the largest unions in the public sector, primarily in education, health and social care, came together to form a new body. (They have since been joined by two other smaller unions.) At its formation, KSJS stated it had 73,421 members, with the teachers’ union SVIZ, which had 39,127 members, as its largest affiliate.[7] Since then, membership appears to have been broadly maintained. In its report to its congress in 2018 KSJS stated that it still had more than 72,000 members, although it accepted that this made it the second largest confederation in Slovenia.[8] The Centre for Public Opinion Research figures also suggest a membership of 60,000, although the fact that members choose to describe themselves as a member of an affiliated federation rather than the confederation makes it difficult to be precise.  


In addition, there are a large number of autonomous unions, which are not affiliated to the seven confederations.


Since 1993, legislation (Zakon o reprezentativnosti sindikatov) has allowed union bodies, both individual unions and union confederations, to gain representative status. Representative union bodies can sign agreements that can then be extended to those not directly involved in the negotiations (see section on collective bargaining) and have greater rights at workplace level (see section on workplace representation. Representative confederations have a seat on the tripartite Economic and Social Council – ESS (see below) In order to be classed as representative, a union must, among other formal requirements, show that it is financially independent, has existed for at least six months, and has a certain level of membership.


A union confederation covering the whole country must have 10% of the employees in membership in the industries, activities or occupations where it seeks to be representative. A union operating outside a confederation must have 15% of the employees in membership in an industry, activity, occupation 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 at the level of an organisation, the decision is taken by the employer. In 2016, the government discussed the introduction of a much more restrictive definition of representativeness, which might have cut the number of representative confederations to just two.[9] However, these plans were not implemented.


Currently seven confederations are considered to be representative at national level. These are ZSSS, KNSS – Neodvisnost, KSS Pergam, Konfederacija ’90, SZS Alternativa, Solidarnost and KSJS. However, the extent to which the confederations are representative across different industries and occupations varies significantly. While 19 unions affiliated to ZSSS are listed as representative, covering activities from firefighting to metal and electronics, the confederation Solidarnost is representative only for motor manufacturing and rail transport as well as for municipal wardens.


There are also 43 other individual unions which 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.


In total there are 2,660 registered trade unions in Slovenia, some of which are the local branches of larger unions. However, in total they only employ 173 people (figures for 2019).[10]


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– Neodvisnost, have at times been difficult. However, they are able to work together and there was cross-union support for a major demonstration, organised by ZSSS and KSS Pergam, calling for higher pay in December 2018.[11]


Union membership has declined since independence in 1991, when around two thirds (66.5%) of the economically active population were in unions, compared with 17.8% in 2019.[12] Over this period, 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. As a result, the share of public sector employees in overall union membership has increased from less than a third (29.5%) in 1991 to almost two-thirds (63.1%) in 2015.[13]


Unions are actively combating this decline, aiming to rebuild membership particularly among the young.[14] The ZSSS set up a separate union for precarious workers Sindikat prekarcev in 2016, which itself emerged out of a broader social movement (Gibanje za dostojno delo in socialno družbo – Movement for Decent work and Welfare Society)


Figures from the Centre for Public Opinion Research on the proportion of union members who are women show that a clear majority of union members are women – 61.9% in 2019, broadly in line with the average of the previous eight years. The proportion is lower in ZSSS, which responds regularly to the ETUC’s annual gender audit – 44.1% in 2019, also in line with previous years.[15] The lower percentage in ZSSS may reflect the distribution of its members between the public and private sectors.

[1] FDV - CJMMK, Slovensko javno mnenje, 1991 - 2019 provided by Živa Broder 2020

[2] Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. Version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019

[3] Living and working in Slovenia by Aleksandra Kanjuo Mrčela and Barbara Luzar, Eurofound November 2019 https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/country/slovenia#actors-and-institutions (Accessed 02.09.2020)

[4] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019  https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 04.09.2020)

[5] Sindikalno gibanje v Sloveniji od osamosvojitve do danes: magistrsko delo by

 Živa Broder, 2016  http://dk.fdv.uni-lj.si/magistrska/pdfs/mag_broder-ziva.pdf (Accessed 02.09.2020)

[6] FDV - CJMMK, Slovensko javno mnenje, 1991 - 2019 provided by Živa Broder 2020

[7] http://www.konfederacija-sjs.si/predstavitev/o-ksjs/index.php (Accessed 02.09.2018)

[8] http://www.konfederacija-sjs.si/dok/porocilo/index.php (Accessed 02.09.2020)

[9]  Vlada želi z zakonom zdesetkati sindikate, Dnevnik.si 16 August 2016 https://www.dnevnik.si/1042748498/slovenija/novela-zakona-o-reprezentativnosti-sindikatov-bi-zdesetkala-sindikate- (Accessed 02.09.2020)

[10] List of representative trade unions (Seznam reprezentativnih sindikatov), Ministrstvo za delo, družino, socialne zadeve in enake možnosti (4.2.2020) https://www.gov.si/assets/ministrstva/MDDSZ/Delovna-razmerja/Seznam-reprezentativnih-sindikatov.pdf (Accessed 02.09.2020)

[11] Informacija o poslovanju nepridobitnih organizacij –pravnih oseb zasebnega prav v Republiki Sloveniji v letu 2019, AJPES, August 2020 https://www.ajpes.si//Doc/LP/Informacije/Informacija_LP_nepridobitne_organizacije_2019.pdf (Accessed 04.09.2020)

[12] Sindikalno gibanje v Sloveniji od osamosvojitve do danes: magistrsko delo by

 Živa Broder, 2016

[13] ibid

[14] See Innovative trade union practices addressing growing precarity characterised by rescaled governance and the shrinking welfare state: the case of Slovenia by Barbara Samaluk in Innovative union practices in Central-Eastern Europe, edited by Magdalena Bernaciak and Marta Kahancová, ETUI, 2018

[15] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019  https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 03.04.2020)

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.