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News 16 Feb 17

Croatia Unions Urge Govt to Maintain Wages, Benefits

Croatia’s public service unions have begun talks on a new deal with the government by insisting that their current wages and benefits are maintained, as the economy is beginning to recover.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
A union rally in Zagreb. Photo: Independent Union of Employees in Croatian High Schools

Croatia’ public sector unions, which represent around 180,000 workers in a country of 4.2 million inhabitants, told BIRN that they will insist on the same terms in their new collective bargaining agreement with the government.

Negotiations started on Tuesday between unions and government on a new agreement regulating issues like wage increases, overtime, travel and transport fees and the number of annual vacation days.

The last agreement was signed in 2012, in the middle of the economic crisis, and is due to expire in mid-March.

Zeljko Stipic, the president of the ‘Preporod’ (‘Revival’) Union of Employees in the School System told BIRN, that although time was running out to reach an agreement, he saw “goodwill on the government’s side”.

Stipic said the unions are not threatening strikes if they do not get what they want.

“You never enter negotiations by threatening strikes… It’s necessary to create a conciliatory attitude on both sides,” he said.

He explained that at the meeting on Tuesday, Labour and Pension System Minister Tomislav Coric said that the authorities were not thinking of changing their terms if the new agreement is not signed before the old one expires.

“If there was a threat that they will stop paying out according to the old agreement and try to threaten [the unions] using the shortage of time [left to reach an agreement], then we would be forced to strike,” Stipic said.

Stipic said that his union will not give up the rights they had in the previous agreement, arguing that the Croatian economy is on the route to recovery after the financial crisis.

Stipic concluded that the his union will not give from all the rights they had in the previous agreement – and will also seek the better resolution of how transport expenses are paid out – claiming that reimbursement of 10 euro cents per kilometre is not enough – as well as to raise awareness of the problem how workers employed through employing agencies are treated.

Anica Prasnjak, president of the main council of the Croatian Union of Nurses and Medical Technicians told BIRN that her union also wants the paying of transport expenses to be better regulated because the current system “put workers with lower wages in an even worse position”.

“Not only will we demand that existing rights are retained, but we’ll ask that some things in the agreement – like the paying of transport expenses – which aren’t functioning well in practice, are better regulated in the implementation of the agreement,” Prasnjak said.

She emphasised that unions will continue to demand Christmas and summer bonuses, as well as annual rewards for productive workers.

Prasnjak explained that both sides will set the dynamics of how wages will grow according to GDP growth in the coming years, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the situation in 2015.

That year, the centre-left government should have raised gross salaries in the public sector by six per cent after GDP grew by two per cent for two consecutive quarters, as specified in the collective agreement, but did not do so.

Prasnjak said that if unions can’t reach an agreement with the government at the negotating table, they will discuss other options, not excluding strikes.

The negotiations are beginning amid suggestions that Croatia’s economy is recovering.

The European Commission has raised its projections for Croatia’s GDP growth in 2016 and 2017 to 2.8 and 3.1 per cent respectively.

The Croatian Bureau of Statistics reported in late January that industrial production in December 2016 was 14.9 per cent higher than 12 months earlier.

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