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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Croatia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Croatia, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caf424.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4,600,000
Capital: Zagreb
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Organising is hampered by workers' dependence on short-term contracts, which especially affects women workers, and by inefficient courts and labour inspectorates. Using the pretext of European integration, the government prepared a law that would curb trade union rights in workplaces. Efforts to improve the draft before Parliament discussions, through bipartite social dialogue, have been blocked by employer organisations.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Workers are entitled by law to form or join unions without prior authorisation. The Labour Code prohibits direct or indirect anti-union discrimination. Union delegates cannot be dismissed from work, transferred or demoted without the consent of the trade union.

Right to strike: The right to strike is recognised with some limitations: strikes can only take place at the end of a collective bargaining agreement or in specific circumstances mentioned in the agreement. Compulsory arbitration for determination of minimum product maintenance may be imposed in any workplace.

Government plans on reducing trade union rights: As a candidate for European Union membership, Croatia committed to amend its Labour Code in line with European rules. However, the government has been using European integration as a pretext for making extensive legal reforms and reducing the rights of workers and trade unions. The involvement of national trade union centres in the labour law reform has been a mere formality.

The amendments, if adopted, would cause employer-controlled trade unions to thrive, impose stricter conditions on collective bargaining, and allow works' councils to compete with trade unions' company-level organisations.

The new law was originally scheduled for adoption at the end of the year. At the end of July, the Ministry of Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship unveiled the proposed amendments. On 5 September, trade unions managed to strike an agreement with the employers and the government, proposing to amend the Labour Code only to the extent absolutely necessary for EU membership. Shortly afterwards, the Government submitted the original draft to the Parliament. The situation had remained in stalemate by the end of the year.

Budget overrides collective agreements: The 1993 Act on the Realisation of the Government Budget allows the government to modify the substance of a collective agreement in the public sector, if there are not sufficient funds in the budget to meet all the financial obligations arising from that agreement.

The Act on Salaries in Public Services also limits collective bargaining rights in the public sector by setting coefficients for the workplace, with the result that public sector workers can negotiate on their basic salaries only.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: In April, thousands of trade unionists marched through Zagreb to demand higher wages. In November, as a response to the global financial crisis, the government proposed to freeze all salaries for a one-year period. The Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia UATUC (affiliated to the ITUC) rejected the Agreement on Social Partnership in New Circumstances, offered by the government in order to cut labour and representation costs throughout the country. The European Commission suggested that Croatia could join the European Union in 2011, but that tougher action was needed against corruption and organised crime.

Anti-union employers: Private employers in small enterprises resist union organising, as do large national and international companies operating big commercial chains. Many of these employers simply prohibit their workers from organising.

For example, the management of "Eurokabel" company in Zagreb threatens to dismiss any worker who forms or joins a trade union. Officers of the metalworkers' trade union SMH (affiliated to the ITUC member UATUC) are not allowed to enter the company. When an SMH branch was formed at the Hidraulika d.d. company (in the town of Kutina), workers started to get dismissal threats. The employer refuses to negotiate with SMH and prevents collection of trade union membership fees. SMH filed a complaint to the labour inspectorate, but there had been no response by the end of the year.

Short-term contracts complicate organising: The majority of recently employed workers are on fixed-term contracts for up to three years, though each contract can be as short as three months. This especially affects women, with around 95% of the female workers employed on short-term contracts. Facing the threat of their contracts not being renewed, workers do not dare to form or join a union.

Slow justice: The European Court of Human Rights has been criticising Croatian court delays as excessive (the average being three years). Enforcement of court decisions, including reinstatement of trade union leaders, remains a problem. Sometimes the employer would rather pay a fine for failure to comply with a court order than reinstate a trade unionist. The trade unions have called for real labour courts, which could significantly expedite the resolution of labour conflicts.

On 20 November, the municipal court of Zagreb finally reached a decision in a five-year-old trade union case. A local branch of the Trade Union of Small Trades (affiliated to the UATUC) was prevented from operating at a particular address in Zagreb in December 2003. The trade union turned to the court for an injunction enabling the continuation of its activities. Five years on, the court stated that the plaintiff's claim had been overruled so an injunction would be "irrelevant". Since rules of procedure clearly stipulate that the court must decide on an injunction before examining the case on its merits, the UATUC suspects court corruption.

Iverica d.o.o. – anti-union manager convicted: The 2007 edition of this Survey reported dismissals, demotions, bullying of trade union members and obstruction of the activities of the UATUC-affiliated PPDIV trade union at IVERICA d.o.o. (city of Belovar) owned by the wood-processing giant Kronospan. The CEO, Petr Nikl, was continually harassing PPDIV and the company's works council. Nikl has brought as many as seven anti-union lawsuits since 2005, but he has lost all of them. On 9 October, the County Court of Belovar convicted Nikl of criminal violation of workers' rights. PPDIV then asked the county administration to withdraw Nikl's work permit (he is a Czech citizen), so he could no longer be a CEO. At the time of writing Nikl's work permit had been withdrawn, but he was reacting with a new anti-union campaign of intimidating workers and threatening them with plant closure.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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