SUN, 01 JUN 1997 23:28:58 GMT
AIM Ljubljana, 25 May, 1997
May is tradionally the month of workers, based primarily on 1 May which is celebrated as the workers' holiday since 1886 when the workers in Chicago made the demand for eight-hour workday. This year's observing of the workers' holiday in Slovenia was much less a celebration and more a warning about the bad situation of the economy, bankruptcy of many factories, growth of unemployment and increase of violations of fundamental workers' rights.
Due to retrogression of Slovenian heavy industries, many workers have been left without their jobs (unemployment is between 7 and 13 per cent, depending on the applied methodology of calculation), and despite great efforts and bad conditions of work, salaries of those who are still employed in these industries are nowadays only between 300 and 600 German marks, while the average salary in Slovenia at the moment exceeds 800 marks, and used to be even higher. Maribor car industry, TAM, is in agony, many textile industries are in a deep crisis which threatens especially the position of women workers, and metal processing industries are also seriously affected by the crisis. What does, in this context, the agreement between the government, the trade union and the employers mean? Collective contracts which are expected to provide comparative social peace, have become the topic of negotiations again. The employers have already cancelled a large number of collective contracts with the explanation that the workers have too many rights (sick leave and other compensations, awards for long years of service in an enterprise, allowance for years of service, paid lunch and transportation expenses, vacation, vacation subsidies...) which allegedly threaten competitiveness of Slovenian economy and especially branches of the economy with great participation of labour.
The starting points of all the three partners are known. With annual coordination of all salaries, the Government is trying to control pensions but also social transfer in order to have certain funds for the state development program and catching up with European countries, and besides it is also trying to keep the social balance. Employers, as the second party in this so-called "Bermuda triangle", are trying to lower the cost of labour and they are demanding interruption of growth of public expenditures and the budget, stressing that the state ought to begin with economizing. The trade unions, as protectors of the workers, will insist on increase of minimum salaries and they will oppose freezing of salaries, except of course, those of managers.
From the macroeconomic aspect, things are not at all simple. It is a fact that the increase of salaries and other income has for several years exceeded the growth of the gross social product. This means that the Slovenes have for quite some time now been sharing and spending more than they have been earning. Life above one's means has brought even the best developed economies with a high standard of living to an enormous deficit and difficulties in operation of the state. While Slovenian workers on 1 May tried to run away from their worries to various festivities with a (plastic) glass or two of spirits, the British Financial Times devoted a significant part of its issue to Slovenia, saying that its development has been interrupted and that uncertainty was growing concerning the question whether it was really ready to open its economy to foreign investors. Eyes fixed at the same time on the past and the future, so that the present escapes them is, according to the opinion of many sociologists, characteristic for countries in transition.
Slovenian minister of finance, Mitja Gaspari, warns that government priorities (economic growth and reduction of unemployment) and that of the central bank (curbing inflation by controlling the amount of money in circulation) are not at all in harmony. But, it is not possible to have a restrictive financial policy and a balanced budget, and - from the aspect of the economy - an unsuitable policy of exchange rate. These things are interconnected and that is the reason why social partners must reach an agreement that the former policy of salaries is not possible any more. The other elements of social policy which are connected with social transfers and interventions in the economy, must yield an exemplary macro-economic result.
Leader of English Labourists, Tony Blair, succeeded to attract voters among other with declarations that there was no struggle between workers and employers like there used to be, just as the main antagonism between privatization and nationalization was not evident any more. He also ardently stressed the significance og high-quality education accessible to all, good health insurance and equal possibilities for all. With such a program he would win in Slovenia too in the current circumstances, because an increasing number of people is warning that all economic problems cannot be resolved solely at the expense of the workers who with the much expected democratization of the law of the market have obtained nothing, although they have contributed the most to it. The Slovene workers' class is nowadays faced with the question how to survive with the minimum net salary (38 thousand tolars, or approximately 400 German marks), which amounts to the value of a single visit to a supermarket. Should this trend continue, it will be very questionable whether Dr Drnovsek will be able to contiune to present Slovenia to the world as "a story about success".
Milan Povirk, AIM