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Workplace Representation

Workplace level representation in Slovenia is provided by both the union in the workplace and the works council. Both have information and consultation rights, although the works council’s rights in this area are more extensive, while only the union can undertake collective bargaining.

Employees at the workplace are represented both through their local union structures and, in workplaces with more than 20 employees, a works council. In practice works council members are frequently trade union activists, although the extent of trade union involvement varies from industry to industry.

 

The works council legislation, the Worker Participation in Management Act (ZSDU), dates originally from 1993 and draws heavily on the experiences in Germany and neighbouring Austria. Although there are no official figures on the presence of works councils in companies, some estimates have been made. Figures from 2004 suggested that around two-thirds (63.9%) of companies with more than 200 employees had works councils.[1] Another survey in 2007, which looked at companies with 10 or more employees, found that works councils were present in around one-fifth (22.9%).[2]

 

This second survey also found that, “despite the clear legal distinction between trade unions and employee representation bodies, the management does not distinguish between the two, since very often the same persons act as trade union representatives as well as employee representatives.”

 

An indication of the overall extent of employee representation at the workplace is provided by the results of Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey. These show that, in 2013, 39% of establishments in Slovenia with at least 10 employees had some form of official employee representation, either a workplace union organisation, a works council or a works trustee. This is slightly higher than the EU28 average of 32%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations were more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. The survey shows that 91% of establishments with more than 250 employees had representation, and that in those with between 50 and 249 employees, the percentage of workplaces with representation was still high at 76%. In smaller workplaces in Slovakia, those with between 10 and 49 employees, the survey indicates that just under a third (30%) had employee representation.[3]

 

Numbers and structure

 

The numbers and structures of trade union representatives at the workplace are set by the unions themselves. However, there is a legal basis for their presence – the 2013 Employment Relations Act (ZDR-1). This states that a union with members at an employer may “appoint or elect” and individual, known as a trade union trustee to “represent it with the employer” (Article 205). It is worth noting, however, that there may sometimes be more than one union at the same workplace and therefore more than one trade union trustee. The number with protection against dismissal (see below) is set out in a collective agreement

 

The arrangements for works councils are set out in much more detail in the Worker Participation in Management Act.

 

This provides that employees can set up a works council in any company with more than 20 employees. (Works councils in Slovenia are set up on a company rather than a plant basis.) In companies with 20 or fewer employees there is a right to appoint a workers’ trustee. (The right to set up a works council was extended to businesses which are not companies, such as sole traders, by legislation in 2007 amending the Worker Participation in Management Act. However, in these cases the lowest threshold is 50 employees.)

 

These calculation are based on the number of employees with a right to vote in works council elections, which in turn depends on having worked at the company for at least six months, irrespective of whether full-time or part-time or whether on a permanent or temporary contract. The six months requirement is removed in newly created companies.

 

The size of the works council varies according to the number of employees as follows:

 

Number of employees

Number of works council members

21-50

3

51-100

5

101-200

7

201-400

9

401-600

11

601-1,000

13

 

There are then an extra two members for every further 1,000 employees.

The works council, which is a body composed entirely of employees, must elect a chair and a deputy chair and it draws up its own rules of procedure. It can set up specialist committees to cover specific issues, such as health and safety, or issues of particular interest to certain groups of workers. These can be broad groups like women or younger workers, but they can also cover specific parts of the company’s business, provided there are at least 10 employees with a right to vote in the part of the company concerned. The committees can also draw in employees other than the elected members of the works council, although two-thirds of the members of these specialist committees must be works council members, and only the works council can take the final decision.

 

The works council will typically meet once a month and normally there will be regular meetings with the employer.

 

Tasks and rights

 

A key task of the union representatives in the company is to carry out collective bargaining, in companies where this takes place. However, they also have a range of other rights, which are set out in various articles of the Employment Relations Act (ZDR-1).

 

In a section covering the “operation and protection of trade union trustees”, the law states that the trade union trustee has the “right to ensure and protect the rights and interests of trade union members with the employer” (Article 205), and that the employer is also “obliged to provide the trade union with access to the information necessary for carrying out trade union activity” (Article 203).

 

Several areas where trade unions have specific information and consultation rights are identified in the legislation. These include:

  • a right to be consulted before adopting rules on the organisation of work, where the union must give a view within eight days (Article 10);
  • an annual right to be informed about the number and reasons for using posted agency workers (Article 59);
  • a right to be informed and consulted on business transfers (Article 76);
  • the right to be informed and consulted on proposed large-scale redundancies (Article 99);
  • a right to be given details of the annual working time schedule, and, where the union requests it, the employer must inform the union annually “on the use of working time, taking into consideration the annual distribution of working time, the performance of overtime work or the temporary redistribution of working time” (Article 148); and
  • a right to be consulted in advance about the introduction of night work (Article 153).

 

These rights, which relate to the whole workforce, can only be exercised by representative trade unions – those which, as well as meeting several formal requirements, have at least 10% of the workforce in membership if they are part of a union confederation, or 15% if they autonomous.

  

In addition, unions have specific rights where their own members are concerned. The employer must inform the union, provide the employee affected wishes it, about the planned dismissal of a union member, and the union has the right to express its opinion in writing. Irrespective of the union’s view, the employer is still able to continue with the dismissal (Articles 85 and 86). The union is also able to participate in disciplinary proceeding against a union member, where the member concerned has authorised this (Article 174). These rights can be exercised by all unions on behalf of their members, whether or not they are representative.

 

Some collective agreements extend unions’ information rights. For example, the  metalworkers’ agreement (signed in 2015 and updated in 2019) states that the employer should also inform the union about its employment policy, its anti-discrimination policies, its wage systems and pay levels, working time, and its results and business plans for the current year and in the medium and long term.[4]

 

The works council, under 2013 Employment Relations Act and the Worker Participation in Management Act 2007, has a wider range of specific information and consultation rights than the local union representatives.

 

Under the Worker Participation in Management Act, the works council’s general powers are described as:

  • ensuring that laws and collective agreements are properly implemented and reaching agreements with the employer;
  • proposing measures for the benefit of workers;
  • accepting initiatives from employees, and, where justified, taking them into account when negotiating with the employer; and
  • assisting disabled, older and other workers receiving protection to integrate into employment.

 

In practice the works council must:

  • be informed on some issues;
  • be consulted on some issues; and  
  • agree some issues before the employer’s proposals can go ahead.  

 

The key information rights are set out in Article 89. This states that the works council must receive information on:

  • the company’s economic situation;
  • the development goals of the company;
  • the state of production and sales;
  • the general economic situation in the industry;
  • changes in company activity;
  • any reduction in activity;
  • changes in the organisation of production;
  • changes in technology; and
  • receive a copy of the company’s annual accounts.

 

This information must be provided in advance where it relates to changes in company activity, reduction in activity, changes in the organisation of production, changes in technology and the annual accounts (Article 90).

 

In addition, under the Employment Relations Act, the works council, like the union, has the right be informed annually, where it requests it, “on the use of working time, taking into consideration the annual distribution of working time, the performance of overtime work or the temporary redistribution of working time” (Article 148). And like the union, it should be informed about the use of agency workers (Article 59), if it requests this. The works council must also be consulted before adopting rules on the organisation of work, if there is no union at the workplace (Article 10).These rights were added after a court case in 2006, which found that the earlier legislation, under which these rights could only be exercised by unions, was unconstitutional.[5]  

 

Under the Worker Participation in Management Act, the works council must also be consulted on a range of issues. In these cases, consultation means giving the works council information at least 30 days beforehand and having a consultative meeting with the works council at least 15 days before the employer takes the decision concerned. The aim of the consultation is to arrive at a jointly agreed position.

 

The issues where this consultation is required include issues relating to the position of the company and issues relating to the position of employees. The main company-related issues are set out in Article 93 of the Worker Participation in Management Act. They are:

  • changes in the company’s legal status;
  • sale of the company or substantial parts of it;
  • closure of the company or substantial parts of it;
  • significant changes in ownership;
  • a transformation in the status of the company under company law; and
  • changes in corporate governance.

 

The employee-related issues (Article 94) are:

  • the need for new staff (how many and what type);
  • job classification;
  • employee transfers (more than 10% moving out of the company or somewhere else within it);
  • new rules on pensions and other benefits;
  • job losses; and
  • the disciplinary code.

 

The employer is also obliged to consult on health and safety issues (Article 91) and the works council’s rights in relation to health and safety, which include the right to be present at inspections, are set out in greater detail in the Health and Safety at Work Act (ZVZD-1).

 

In addition, under the Worker Participation in Management Act, there are some areas where the works council must agree with the employer’s proposals before they can be implemented (Article 95). These are:

  • the arrangements for annual leave;
  • performance assessment criteria;
  • criteria for rewarding innovation (suggestion scheme);
  • the use of social facilities, such as holiday homes, owned by the company; and
  • the criteria for promotion.

 

In all these cases, if the works council objects to the proposal, the issue goes to an arbitration body, with equal number of members appointed by the works council and the employer and an independent chair, whose appointment must be agreed by both sides.

 

Prior agreement by the works council is also required in some other areas, otherwise subject to only information or consultation rights, if the consequence is an increase or decrease in the number of employees (Article 96). These are:

  • changes in company activity;
  • any reduction in activity;
  • changes in the organisation of production;
  • changes in technology;
  • changes in the company’s legal status; and
  • sale of the company or substantial parts of it.

 

However, the works council can only refuse consent if the proposal involving a loss of jobs does not include proposals for dealing with redundancies, as required by legislation, or has not been justified. As with other areas requiring the works council’s agreement, the issue goes to an arbitration body if the works council objects.

 

The works council has the same rights as the union in the areas of planned dismissal and in disciplinary cases, under the Employment Relations Act. In other words, it can express a view where someone is to be dismissed (Article 86) and participate in disciplinary proceedings (Article 174). However, the involvement of the works council only comes when the individual concerned is not a union member. 

Election and term of office

 

The 2013 Employment Relations Act simply states that the trade union “may appoint or elect a trade union representative to represent it with the employer”. This leaves the arrangements, including the term of office, up to the union. The union must inform the employer who has been elected or appointed, and where no representative has been chosen, the union is represented by its president.

 

Works council members are elected by the employees in a secret ballot. Candidates can be proposed, either by a representative union in the company (one with either 10% or 15% of the workforce in membership, depending on whether it is part of a confederation) or by a number of employees. The number needed to nominate starts at three and increases with the size of the workforce in the company, up to a maximum of 50.

 

All employees who have worked in the organisation for at least six months have a right to vote, other than the director and senior management, plus their family members. Fixed term and part-time employees have the same voting rights as permanent full-time employees, provided they have sufficient service. However, agency staff, who are not employees are not able to vote.

The same restrictions apply to candidates for election to the works council, except for the period of service, which is 12 months rather than six months.

The term of office is four years, and there are no limits on the number of times an individual can be re-elected.

Protection against dismissal

 

Both works council members and trades union representatives have the same protection against dismissal. Provided they have not acted illegally or broken their employment contract they cannot be dismissed without the consent of the body to which they belong, except where the business is being wound up or the individual concerned has refused to accept a reasonable transfer (Employment Relations Act – Article 112).

 

The protection lasts for the entire period of office, plus a year after leaving office. The number of union representatives enjoying this protection is determined by collective agreement. The metalworking agreement, for example, leaves the number given protection to a local agreement between the union and the employer, with only one individual having protection if no agreement is reached.[6]

 

Time off and other resources

 

The 2013 Employment Relations Act (Article 203) requires that the employer should give trade union representatives “conditions … for the rapid and efficient performance of trade union activities in accordance with the regulations protecting the rights and interests of workers”. However, the details are often settled through collective agreements.

 

The agreement for the metalworking industry, for example, states that trade union trustees should have at least two hours paid time off a year per union member employed, with a minimum of 50 hours a year, provided 15% of the employees are union members. Employees holding senior union positions at national or regional level are entitled to between 15 and 45 days’ time-off a year, depending on the position they hold. There is also a right to training for union trustees (see below).[7]

 

The works council’s rights to paid time off and the resources necessary for their duties are regulated in Articles 62 to 67a of the Worker Participation in Management Act. The works council meets during working time and members are guaranteed five hours paid time a month to attend these meetings. In addition, they are entitled to three hours paid time a month for consultation with workers. Agreements with the employer can improve on these rights.

 

In medium and large companies time-off rights are more extensive. In companies with between 50-100 employees one member is entitled to be released from normal duties on a part-time basis. In companies with 101-300 employees it is two members. In companies with 301-600 employees one person is entitled to be released on a full-time basis, rising to two in companies with 601-1,000. Beyond this threshold there is one extra for each further 600 workers.

 

The company should also provide an office for the works council members, where they have some release from normal work, and pay for the material and equipment the works council needs, as well as the cost of administrative staff. Experts may also be paid by the company if this has been agreed in advance.

 

It is also possible for the works council to agree its own budget with the employer.

 

Training rights

 

There is no statutory right to training for union trustees, but some collective agreements provide for it. The metalworking agreement, for example, includes a right to 24 hours a year for trade union education for trade union trustees, and the agreement for hospitality and tourism is similar – providing three paid days’ training a year for trustees.[8]

 

Works council members, in contrast, have a statutory right in Article 63 of the Worker Participation in Management Act to 40 paid hours a year “for the training necessary for the effective work of the works council”. The legislation does not state who should pay for the training, but the Association of Works Councils of Slovenia, which is supportive of the role of works councils, argues that the implication of this legislation is that the employer should also pay for this.[9]

Representation at group level

 

Where a company is part of a bigger group it is possible to set up a works council bringing together representatives from the works councils of all the companies concerned (Worker Participation in Management Act – Articles 73 to 77). The size and the distribution of seats are decided by the members themselves, as are the issues that are dealt with at this level.

 

In practice there are very few bodies of this sort.

[1] Slovenia: the impact of the information and consultation directive by Samo Pavlin, Eurofound, March 2009 http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/comparative-information/national-contributions/slovenia/slovenia-the-impact-of-the-information-and-consultation-directive  (Accessed 29.09.2020) 

[2] Franca, V. and Pahor, M. Influence of management attitudes on the implementation of employee participation. Economic and industrial democracy, ISSN 0143-831X, 2014, vol. 35, no. 1, str. 115-142

[3] Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44

[4] Collective agreement for the Slovenian metal industry Kolektivna pogodba za kovinsko industrijo Slovenije (31.12.19) Article 36 http://www.pisrs.si/Pis.web/pregledPredpisa?id=KOLP393 (Accessed 29.09.2020)

 

[5] See Diplomsko delo svet delavcev by Sandra Gobec, July 2014

[6] Kolektivna pogodba za kovinsko industrijo Slovenije (31.12.19) Article 38

[7] Ibid Article 37

[8] Ibid and Kolektivna pogodba dejavnosti gostinstva in turizma Slovenije (03.07.20) Article 53 http://www.pisrs.si/Pis.web/pregledPredpisa?id=KOLP511 (Accessed 29.09.2020)

[9] Stroški izobraževanja članov sveta delavcev, ZSDS https://www.delavska-participacija.com/koristne-informacije/vprasanja/stroski-izobrazevanja-clanov-sveta-delavcev/ (Accessed 29.09.2020)

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.