Croatian unionists are protesting against the draft Act on Labour

Zagreb, 19 November 2009 – Zagreb main square Trg bana Josipa Jelačića saw around 1.500 members of four trade union confederations – Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC/SSSH), Independent Trade Unions of Croatia (ITUC/NHS), Croatian Trade Union Association (HUS) and Association of Workers’ Trade Unions of Croatia (URSH) – who gathered at the trade union rally/public discussion about the final draft of the Act on Labour.

Trade union leaders Ana Knežević (UATUC/SSSH), Krešimir Sever (NHS), Ozren Matijašević (HUS) and Damir Jakuš (URSH) addressed the demonstrators and emphasized that the Government’s draft Act on Labour, which has to be amended due to the harmonization process of Croatian legislation with the acquis communautaire of the EU, has actually been done under the strong interest influence of the employers’ lobby.

UATUC President Ana Knežević said that during discussions and negotiations on the Labour Code the trade unions advocated that the fixed-term employment is used as an exception, and not as a rule, which is the case in Croatia during these last years, however Government betrayed the unions and stood on the side of employers. Krešimir Sever added that the Government confirmed its inclination to employers by nominating Mr. Đuro Popijač, until now general director of the Croatian Employers’ Association (HUP), as a new Minister of Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship. Interestingly enough, he was appointed minister on 19 November, the very same day the Act on Labour was scheduled for adoption in the Parliament.

“Neither does this new draft Act on Labour include a penal provision for those employers who oppress workers not the ones preventing non-payment of wages”, said Ozren Matijašević and announced signing the petition for a referendum for cancellation of the so-called crisis-tax.
At the same time, in front of the building of the Croatian Parliament (St. Mark’s Square, which has been forbidden for public gatherings for several years now precisely because of numerous trade union protests which used to be held in front of the Government and Parliament building) trade union representatives distributed leaflets to MPs, before the beginning of the 15th session of the Parliament, which was to discuss the Act on Labour, as the 11th item on the agenda. Trade union leaflets warned against the negative consequences of adopting the Act on Labour in the proposed form. It would additionally decrease the existing level of workers’ rights, which is banned by the EU directive. However, only a few trade union representatives managed to get through to the Parliament building, after heavy negotiations and pleading with the police. They were allowed to cross the barricades only with presenting their IDs and leaving their personal data. Another small group of trade unionists who also tried to get to the St Mark’s square was stopped, though the students, general public and some tourists were allowed to pass by. Trade unionists were not welcome!

At the end of the meeting on the Main Square, the demonstrators went up the Radićeva street towards the forbidden St Mark’s Square, however they were stopped by the police cordon and metal barricades. There was no way through. Only the trade union leaders could pass the barricades to meet with the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Mr. Luka Bebić who promised to accept the trade union delegation. At this meeting, presidents Ana Knežević, Krešimir Sever, Ozren Matijašević and Damir Jakuš submitted trade union amendments to the draft Act on Labour proposed by the Government. They explained the most problematic issues, demanding special attention to be paid to the issue of fixed-term work. At the beginning of the meeting, Mr Bebić said that he was not very much familiar with the issue, however that the Prime Minister Mrs Jadranka Kosor that morning informed him that the “trade unions and employers spent 15 months on mutual agreement and that they failed hence the Government is sending such proposal to the parliamentary procedure. In the second phase of negotiations on the Act on Labour the Government is ready to solve everything the trade unions are demanding”. Finally trade unions got the support from the Speaker saying that in the discussion about the Act on Labour he will support the trade union amendments. However, he will discuss it in greater detail with the Prime Minister. Speaker of the Croatian Parliament gave the green light to trade union representatives to be present and sit on the gallery during the discussion on the Act on Labour.

Trade unions will demand from the Club of MPs of the ruling party HDZ, which forms the majority in the Parliament, to organize a joint meeting with the Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and president of the HDZ Club of MPs Mr. Andrija Hebrang.

The only trade union confederation not participating in the protest is Matica (Association of Croatian Public Service Unions), whose deputy president Mr. Vilim Ribić said in public that Croatia has far bigger problems than the Act on Labour and that we should not waste our energy and time on demonstrating for Act on Labour! UATUC reacted on this statement with a press release signed by its president Ana Knežević and vice-president Mr. Ivan Tomac. “It is his right not to participate. However it is not his right to disqualify the efforts of the other trade unions to finally get the Act on Labour which will balance the interest of labour and capital, prevent the exploitation of workers and abuses of legislative institutes to the detriment of workers, which we are witnessing day after day”. (…) “Good, civilized and balanced Act on Labour is a key workers’ interest and at the time when the Parliament is discussing the Act on Labour, for us there is no issue more important than that.” The UATUC criticizes Ribić for being the only trade union leader who has never, through concrete actions, supported a desperate fight of industrial workers, defending always the position that the interests of public sector workers are contrary to industry and services workers! This destroys trade union unity, weakens the trade union movement and is contrary to the general interest of all workers.

“It’s high time that we understand that we are in these turbulent times of neoliberal attacks on workers’ rights and dignity together”, concluded the UATUC press release.