Business News

Standard Employment Contract in Focus of Labour Reform Talks

Ljubljana, 21 September (STA) - The introduction of a standard open-ended employment contract was one of the main issues discussed by social partners at the start of negotiations on the labour market reform on Friday. Employers believe the contract does not give them enough flexibility, while trade unions think it does not bring enough security.

Coming out of the meeting, Minister for Labour, Family and Social Affairs Andrej Vizjak said he was happy with the outcome of the talks. The timeline of future meetings was set and talks on concrete issues have already started, he explained.

According to him, the negotiations on labour reform will be as intensive as those on the pension reform. Social partners will also meet twice a week, on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings, he noted.

Responding to criticism regarding the main solution proposed in the labour market reform, the standard open-ended employment contract, the minister said that the contract would bring both flexibility and security.

In line with the government's proposal, the contract would involve a five-month probation period during which a person could be fired without cause with just two weeks' notice, but then the firing rules would be tightened and comparable to the present ones.

Vizjak pointed out that the goal pursued by the government here, to enable young people to get stable jobs, exceeded the interests of social partners.

"Today we mostly discussed what social partners would be ready to accept," said Branimir Štrukelj, the head of the KSJS trade union, representing around a half of public sector employees.

Unions foremost want to see two issues sorted out. One is the five-month probation period, "when the worker has no rights and the employer can give him the sack any time", and the other is the proposed introduction of temporary and occasional forms of work for pensioners and the unemployed.

"These [forms of work] are not acceptable for the unemployed, as this would mean that employers can take advantage of the legislation and use this form of work continuously," Štrukelj said.

This was echoed by the representatives of the ZSSS and KS 90 trade union confederations. "We've opened the first chapter that deals with the five-month probation period. Firing without cause is not a way of reducing segmentation of the labour market," Andrej Zorko of the ZSSS said.

Peter Majcen of the KS 90 expressed wish that a consensus was reached on key issues before the reform proposal was submitted to parliament.

Representatives of employers seemed happier with today's talks. Secretary general of the Employers' Association Jože Smole said that solutions acceptable to all would need to be found.

Employers must be given the chance to employ as well as dismiss people more easily so that they will be able to adapt to markets and look for new business opportunities, according to him.

He expressed hope that once agreed on among social partners, the reform proposal would not be further amened in parliament. Employers want radical not only cosmetic changes, he stressed.

Meanwhile, Ivan Jani Ulaga of the Chamber of Trade Crafts and Small Business (OZS) was somewhat disappointed with the meeting, saying that neither the government nor the unions understood the problems of small businesses.

He said the small business sector shrank by as much as 30% or more "and we're discussing some rights and possibilities to upgrade existing legislation".

He believes the proposed standard contract will not bring more jobs or greater competitiveness, as greater burdens for the employers bring smaller competitiveness.

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