This content is from: Local Insights

Slovak Republic: Corporate trade unions

There are no prevailing legal requirements as to how many employees must be represented by a trade union for the union to be able to play a role within a Slovak company. Unions only need to satisfy the requirements for the establishment of a civic association (that is, at least three members), after which employers must communicate with the union in the statutory manner. This communication includes consulting with the union each time the employer unilaterally terminates employment, or seeking the union's approval for issuing new work rules.

The employer has no choice but to accept the formation of a trade union on its premises. From a practical standpoint, this first of all means that the employer must provide a space equipped as necessary and free of charge, and must permit the designated employees to conduct their activities and carry out the duties of employee representatives. In any event, the chief role of the trade union is to negotiate collective agreements where they endeavour to improve working conditions and increase wages for employees.

In reality, however, a trade union only has influence over an employer if a sufficient number of employees have joined. This is for the most part felt in collective bargaining, where the trade union represents the interests of all employees, regardless of whether they are union members. If the trade union has the support of the absolute majority of employees, and meets other statutory conditions, then if a collective agreement cannot be agreed upon with the employer, the union may declare a strike. In the past, a strike was more or less a last resort in the majority of companies in Slovakia and rarely ever occurred, but there is now social pressure to raise wages, and strikes or readiness to strike are becoming more common. Employers are trying to prevent this, even by initiating legal actions. It is possible for employers to apply for an injunction to interrupt an unlawful strike, whereby the court would order the trade union to interrupt all activities that could compromise the operations of the employer. Case law has shown, however, that the courts tend to dismiss these applications because the employer is unable to prove impending harm.

The presence of more than one trade union within a single employer is also common practice, as is another form of employee representation – the works council. Unlike a trade union, the works council does not have the right to collective bargaining or the right to enter into collective agreements. This is because the works council has no legal personality, and therefore cannot enter into contracts or be a party to any lawsuits.

Sometimes the employer actually initiates the formation of a trade union, whether to eliminate a trade union that was formed previously or as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of the formation of an outside trade union. If an outside trade union were to try to come in, the deciding factor as to which union prevailed would be which of them had the support of most employees, as that union would be the one to enter into collective bargaining. However, it is also possible that the trade unions would negotiate together with the employer. In this situation, if no agreement were reached, the employer would negotiate with the trade union that had the most members.

In cases where an employer has both a trade union and a works council, the two bodies would share competencies in accordance with law. The trade union has the right to co-decision making, which means it has the right to grant or deny consent as dictated by law in cases where the employer does not have the right to make decisions without the consent of the employees. The works council retains the right to consultation – this would apply in cases where the law did not require the consent of employee representatives, but only a formal consultation. Both of these bodies have the same right to information in respect of the employer. The right to information includes information about the company's economic and financial situation and the projected development of its activities. It does not mean, however, that the employer must divulge all information concerning its economic and financial situation. The employer may refuse to provide information which could harm the employer, or may demand that such information be held in confidence. The trade union also has the right, as opposed to the works council, to inspect safety and health protection at work. If the union finds serious problems with the company's machines and equipment, the union can demand a work stoppage until the problems are resolved.

The details concerning the rights of employee representatives are typically set out in the collective agreement. For example, the collective agreement may set out the duty of the employer to notify employee representatives at certain intervals about average wages or the number of employees, or the conditions of the monitoring activity of the trade union.

Zuzana LenzováByung Sung Park

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