Population: 7 800 000
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 - 87 - 98 - 105 - 111 - 138 - 182
International action was successful in removing the ban on strikes in the energy, communication and healthcare sectors. Furthermore, in a legally binding decision, the Council of Europe declared that the blanket prohibition of strikes in the civil service and disproportionate strike restrictions in the railway sector constituted a violation of the right to strike. However, the law on these restrictions had not been changed by year’s end.
Trade union rights in law
The constitution provides for the right of all workers to form or join trade unions, with the exception of the military. Public servants are covered by a separate law, which recognises their freedom of association.
Strike limitations: Strikes are allowed when negotiations to resolve a collective dispute do not reach agreement - when agreement cannot be reached after resorting to mediation and/or voluntary arbitration, and when the employer does not comply with the process.
Public servants do not have the right to strike - they are only allowed to engage in "symbolic strikes", which means displaying signs, arm-bands, badges or protest banners and not withdrawing their labour. "Political strikes" are prohibited, as are strikes in essential services, the list of which exceeds the ILO definition. In the railway transport sector, the right to strike is severely limited (a 50 per cent minimum service is required in the event of a strike). The law allows strikes to be declared illegal if the decision is upheld by two courts, i.e. after an initial judgement, and an appeal to a higher court. Members of the military and the judiciary may not strike, and until October 2006 workers in the electricity, healthcare and communication sector were also banned from striking.
In 2005, the national trade union confederation CITUB and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) submitted a collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), which is a supervisory body to the Social Charter of the Council of Europe. In a decision taken on 16 October 2006, the Committee concluded that the general ban on strikes in the electricity, healthcare and communication sectors, as well as the restriction on strikes in the railway sector (high minimum services threshold) and the rule that only allows civil servants, irrespective of their function, to engage in symbolic strikes, were incompatible with the Charter and therefore constituted a violation of trade union rights. The state authorities were consequently obliged to change the legislation.
Shortly before the final decision of the ECSR, on 12 October 2006 the parliament adopted an amendment to the Law on the Settlement of Collective Labour Disputes, removing the ban on strikes in the energy, communication and healthcare sectors, and providing for the mediation and conciliation procedures. No further changes had been made, however, at the time of writing. Hence the restrictions on the right to strike in the railway sector and the civil service remain in place.
Dispute resolution: The National Institute for Reconciliation and Arbitration was set up in 2003 for the out-of- court resolution of collective labour disputes. The Institute provides mediation and arbitration, filling a major gap in the industrial relations system. There are no mechanisms for resolving collective labour disputes in the branches and activities where strikes are prohibited.
Protection from discrimination: The Labour Code provides for six months' salary as compensation in cases of anti-union discrimination. The Act on Protection Against Discrimination has been in force since January 2004. Employees can appeal against discrimination before the Commission on Protection Against Discrimination. Trade unions may claim discrimination against their members, if the member requests them to. However, the burden of proof rests entirely on the employee.
Bargaining rights not recognised in public sector: Collective bargaining is allowed for private sector workers. The Civil Servants' Act denies the right to collective bargaining for public servants. Where collective agreements are concluded between representative trade unions and employer organisations at the sectoral level, they can be extended to cover all enterprises in the sector, but only at the discretion of the minister.
Labour Courts: In March 2004, the government announced it was examining the possibility of setting up specialised labour courts. The process continued, with ILO assistance.
Trade union rights in practice
Frequent harassment: In recent years, the unions have reported frequent cases of discrimination and harassment against trade union activists and members, who have been relocated, downgraded or sacked. This has created fear and insecurity, often making workers reluctant to join a trade union. The legal proceedings for the reinstatement of dismissed workers can take a long time, sometimes years, while the sanctions against employers for unfair dismissal are too weak to be dissuasive. In the private sector, some employers have simply banned trade union membership within their enterprise and have forced newly employed workers to sign declarations that they will not establish or join trade unions. Temporary employment contracts are increasingly being used to prevent workers from demanding their rights, as the Labour Code does not properly protect workers with a temporary contract.