Worker participation - Slovakia

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Alexander Tažik (KTU – KOVO), Ferenc Kudász (Nemzeti Munkaügyi Hivatal)

Introduction

Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) is one of the most important issues for employees in Slovakia. The right for just and satisfying working conditions is guaranteed by the Constitution.[1] Furthermore, everyone has the right to freely associate with others in order to protect his/her economic and social interests. Trade union organisations are established independently of the State. Co-operation between management, workers and their representatives is an essential element of safety and health at work. This is fostered by the OSH legal framework, which has been adapted to EU regulations, and is enforced by state supervisory authorities. There are dedicated institutions for workers’ representation on national, sectoral and company levels.

Regulatory framework for worker participation

International legislative outcomes

Legal framework for participation of employees on influencing the working conditions of employees in labour-law relations in Slovakia comes out from conventions of ILO and directives of the EU. Slovakia was a member of ILO during 1919 – 1993 as part of the former Czechoslovakia and since 1993 as an independent state. According to ratified conventions[2] there shall be an established system for worker participation which ensures that:

  • collective bargaining is possible for all employers and all groups of workers on determining working conditions and terms of employment, regulating relations between employers and workers as well as regulating relations between employers or their organisations and workers' organisations; Convention C154/1981, Articles 2,5,[3]
  • workers' representatives co-operate with the employer in the field of OSH and co-operation between management and workers and/or their representatives in an enterprise is an essential element of the OSH organisation, Convention C155/1981, Articles 19, 20,[4]
  • the national OSH system includes a national tripartite advisory body addressing OSH issues and the ILO member state formulates a national OSH programme in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers, Convention C187/2010, Articles 4, 5,[5]
  • the competent authorities promote collaboration between officials of the labour inspectorate, as well as employers and workers or their organisations, Convention C081/1947, Article 5.[6]

Slovakia, as a Member State of the EU since 2004, is obliged to transpose EU Directives into national legislation. The most important of them concerning participation of employees are:

  • Directive 2002/14/EC,[7] which establishes a general framework setting out minimum requirements for the right to information and consultation of employees in EU Members States. The Directive is transposed to Slovak legislation through provisions of Labour Code.[8]
  • Directive 89/391/EEC,[9] which introduces measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. Requirements for consultation and participation of workers concerning OSH issues are defined in Article 11 of this Directive. Mainly employers shall consult workers and/or their representatives and allow them to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work.

Workers or workers' representatives with specific responsibility for OSH shall take part, or shall be consulted by the employer about measures affecting OSH, shall have the right to ask the employer to take appropriate measures and to submit proposals. The Framework Directive is transposed to Slovak legislation by the Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection 124/2006.[10]

National legislative outcomes in Slovakia

The strongest form of employees' participation is the board-level representation (zastúpenie v orgánoch spoločnosti). In Slovakia this is legally guaranteed by the Commercial Code only in joint stock companies employing more than 50 employees. In these, both state-owned and private sector, a third of the supervisory board is elected by employees. The supervisory board has to have a minimum of 3 members including at least one employee as a representative. The activities of the supervisory board are generally focused on financial issues such as accountancy and financial statements. A small number of state owned companies still exist in Slovakia that are called State Enterprises (štátne podniky) established for special Acts of State Enterprise. The state enterprise is controlled by the supervisory board of which half of its members are elected by the employees. With regards to the above mentioned demands of ILO Conventions and EU Directives in these main national legal acts, conditions of worker participation in general and that focusing on OSH are established:

  • Labour Code,[11]
  • Act on Collective Bargaining 2/1991,[12]
  • Act on Tripartite Consultation at state level 103/2007,[13]
  • Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection 124/2006.[14]

Labour Code

Labour Code[15] regulates workers' participation at the company level. This law defines the forms of employees’ representation (§ 11a), which can be trade union (odborová organizácia), works council (zamestnanecká rada) or workers’ delegate (zamestnanecký dôverník). A safety and health representative is also recognised as an employee representative but only for OSH issues. Trade union and works council can be present in companies at the same time. Employees participate in labour-law relations via their representatives by:

  • joint decision-making, which means that prior consent or agreement with the employees’ representative is required before the employer can execute an action,
  • discussion (consultation, negotiation) which is an exchange of opinions and dialogue between the employees’ representative and the employer in an effort to reach agreement, the employer has the right to making a final decision,
  • right to information, which means that the employer provides information to the employees’ representative in a comprehensive manner and appropriate time mainly regarding the employer's economic and financial situation,
  • right to control activities, which means that the employer provides the employees' representative all details which are necessary for execution of the inspection.

Labour Code together with collective labour agreement (if concluded) is the elementary basis for relations between the employer, his employees and their representatives at company level.

Act on Collective Bargaining

Act on Collective Bargaining regulates the respective trade union bodies of trade union organisations and employers or their representative organisations, in an effort to conclude collective agreements. Only trade unions have the right to conclude collective labour agreements in Slovakia, neither works council nor workers’ delegate. Generally, anything can be agreed in the collective labour agreement that is not in contradiction with any other law. Conditions agreed cannot be worse than those given by law, if so, that part of the collective labour agreement is invalid. There are three main types of agreements:

  • company collective agreement (podniková kolektívna zmluva), concluded at enterprise level between trade union and the employer;
  • collective agreement of a higher degree (kolektívna zmluva vyššieho stupňa), concluded for a major number of employers between a respective higher trade union body and the organisation of employers usually at sectoral level;
  • collective agreement of a higher degree, concluded between a higher trade union body and the employer who is the state.

In the company collective agreement the conditions shall be at least at the same level or better if collective agreement of a higher degree is concluded on sectoral level. Conditions and particulars of workers participation are specified in collective agreements (company and higher degree), including these concerning OSH.

Act on Tripartite Consultation

The purpose of the Act on Tripartite Consultation is to promote effective social dialogue at national level between the State and employers and employees through their representatives with an aim to promote economic and social development, employment security and social peace in Slovakia. For the purposes of this Act the representative of the state is the Government of the Slovak Republic. A representative body appointed by representative associations of employers, which brings together employers from various sectors of the economy and employ at least 100,000 workers, represents employers. Employees' representatives are representative of trade unions that unite employees of various sectors of the economy with at least 100 000 workers who are union members. According to the law Economic and Social Council of the Slovak Republic (Rada hospodárskej a sociálnej dohody – RHSD)[16] is established. The Council has 21 members. It consists of seven representatives appointed by the Government, seven representatives appointed by representative employers' associations and seven representatives appointed by representative associations of trade unions. For each area of its activities the Council establishes its advisory bodies or committees, which consist of experts appointed by the representatives of the Government and the social partners. The Council is a consultative body of the Government and the reconciliatory body of social partners at national level. It:

  • adopts recommendations on economic, social and employment development.
  • adopts agreements on economic, social and employment development.
  • provides opinions and recommendations on the national budget.
  • issues opinions on drafts of legal regulations concerning the interests of employees and employers, particularly economic, social, labour and wage conditions, terms of employment and business conditions.
  • supports all forms of collective bargaining.

If there is no agreement between social partners, the final decision is made by the Government because the Council is not an executive but a consultative body.

Act on Tripartite Consultation is the corner-stone of effective social dialogue at the national level and the basis for workers to influence decisions concerning social development (employment, work and wage conditions, OSH).

Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection

In the field of OSH the Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection 124/2006 (Act on OSH) is the most important one. This law directly transposes the EU Framework Directive with other OSH provisions included. It regulates OSH definitions, principles of prevention, obligations of the employer, the rights and obligations of employees, information of employees, requirements for co-operation of the employer and employees, the provisions on employees’ safety representatives and OSH commission at the workplace, procedures concerning occupational accidents, occupational diseases and other important provisions concerning OSH. The law provides elementary outcomes for employees’ participation on OSH at the workplace.

OSH and worker participation

The most traditional form of workers representation in Slovakia is trade union activity. It goes back to the end of the 19th century when in the region of today's Slovakia the first trade unions appeared. Works council and workers’ delegate were incorporated into the Labour Code[17] only in the 21st century. The safety and health representative (Zástupca zamestnancov pre bezpečnosť a ochranu zdravia pri práci) first appeared in the legal framework in 1996. Only trade unions have their own legal entity as non-profit companies. They are established in accordance with the Law on Association of Citizens.[18]

National level

Confederation of Trade unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zväzov SR - KOZ SR)[19] is recognised as the main representative of workers at national level. It is the only representative of trade unions that unites employees with at least 100,000 workers who are union members according to the Act on Tripartite Consultation at state level[11] and a sole member of Economic and Social Council of the Slovak Republic[20] on behalf of workers. There exist other independent trade unions in Slovakia who are not members of KOZ SR, for example the Independent Christian Trade Unions of Slovakia (Nezávislé kresťanské odbory Slovenska).[21] Not one of them reaches the threshold which would entitle them to become a member of the Economic and Social Council.

KOZ SR is a voluntary association of trade union associations, brought together for the purpose of defending the rights and legitimate interests of trade union members and to promote their economic, social, cultural and other interests and needs connected with their employment and occupation. Ensuring OSH conditions is one of the most important priority of KOZ SR policy. According to the provisions of the Labour Code[22] trade unions in labour relations including OSH represent all workers not only trade union members. KOZ SR has its own OSH department which co-ordinates trade union OSH activities mainly on a national level and an international level towards institutions like ETUI,[23] EU-OSHA.[24] KOZ SR associates trade union labour inspectors (Odboroví inšpektori BOZP) who are trade union OSH experts from different trade union associations. The main responsibility of these experts is to carry out independent trade union OSH inspections at the workplaces in companies where trade unions are present. Usually they are full-time trade union employees but it is not the rule or requirement. KOZ SR OSH department employees, trade union labour inspectors, other trade union experts or sometimes union friendly experts outside trade unions are nominated to represent KOZ SR in fields of OSH issues like:

  • tripartite negotiations in the Economic and Social Council of the Slovak Republic (state OSH policy preparation, changes in OSH legislation),
  • direct communication with the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny SR – MPSVaR SR), which is the competent authority of the state administration for labour-law relations, occupational safety and health protection, as well as labour inspection,
  • direct communication with the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic (Ministerstvo zdravotníctva SR – MZ SR), which is the competent authority for occupational health protection,
  • communication with state supervisory bodies like the National Labour Inspectorate (Národný inšpektorát práce SR),[25] regional labour inspectorates, the Public Health Authority (Úrad verejného zdravotníctva SR – ÚVZ SR)[26] and its regional public health offices, which together create an enforcing mechanism and a supervisory system in the field of OSH in Slovakia,
  • negotiation on OSH issues with employers' representative organisations like the Federation of Employers' Associations of the Slovak Republic (Asociácia zamestnávateľských zväzov a združení SR – AZZZ SR),[27] National Union of Employers (Republiková únia zamestnávateľov – RÚZ),[28]
  • participation on different OSH professional and expert conferences, workshops or other meetings,
  • co-operation and discussion with OSH educational, research institutions and OSH professional associations.

Representatives of KOZ SR are members of various OSH committees, commissions and working parties appointed at ministries and the National Labour Inspectorate. As recognised experts they are often invited to different OSH networks, forums organised on a commercial or non-commercial basis where they give lectures and presentations. Their articles are issued in OSH professional periodicals.

Workers' participation on OSH is present mostly via KOZ SR activities at a national level. The most effective tool at this level is positive influencing of the OSH legislative framework, which can go through tripartite and bipartite negotiations, persuasion, discussion with the Government and ministries top executives, lobbying via OSH authorities and highly recognised experts. OSH Department of KOZ SR submits comments and suggestions to legislation to competent ministries. Laws concerning OSH are adopted by Members of the Parliament – National Council of the Slovak Republic (Národná rada SR – NR SR),[29] so direct communication with MPs can sometimes be a very useful method. Many OSH particulars are regulated by lower legislative acts like regulations of the Slovak Republic Government[30] and decrees of the Slovak Republic ministries,[31] [32] which are issued without parliamentary approval. Direct communication of KOZ SR representatives with these ministries and participation of KOZ SR on legislative processes are very important because at this stage a general framework for the OSH system is created, including conditions for workers’ participation at sectoral and especially at company level.

Since 1994 Slovakia has had its own OSH National Strategy with a main goal to improve working conditions and to decrease work related injuries. It was adopted for periods of approximately 4 – 5 years. The last one covered years 2008 – 2012 and was officially called Concept on Health and Safety at Work in the Slovak Republic.[33] New strategy for period 2013 – 2020 is under preparation. The OSH Co-ordination Committee (Koordinačný výbor pre bezpečnosť a ochranu zdravia pri práci) was established in 2003 to co-ordinate the activities concerning OSH strategies (policy preparation, implementation and evaluation). Members of this committee are OSH experts. Formerly, workers did not have a representation in this body but from 2008 KOZ SR has been invited to nominate its representatives to the Committee and through them they can participate in strategy creation and evaluation.

KOZ SR concluded agreements on co-operation with state supervisory bodies in the OSH field. The last agreement[34] with the National Labour Inspectorate[35] was concluded in 2013 and its main purpose is to improve workers’ protection at work through co-operation between the Labour Inspection and the Trade Unions. It provides good possibilities for mutual support, consultation, exchange of information and better inspection at workplaces. The Agreement[36] with the Public Health Authority[37] was concluded in 2008. It focuses on improvement of health protection at work. Under the agreement state body experts provide professional consultation to workers’ representatives especially to trade union labour inspectors and help them identify working conditions which are dangerous for employees’ health mainly from the point of view of long term effects.

In the beginning of each year the OSH Department of KOZ SR prepares the Summary Report on trade union OSH inspection activities (Správa o činnosti odborovej kontroly)[38] on the previous year. The report describes the general situation in the field of OSH in society, informs about trade union OSH activities at all levels, evaluates the development of work related injuries and diseases and provides the list of shortcomings identified during trade union OSH inspections. The report is submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic[39] and to the Economic and Social Council of the Slovak Republic.[40]

Sectoral level

In Slovakia there are no general legal provisions adjusting workers involvement on OSH issues workers involvement on OSH issues at sectoral level. The main tool for participation of workers on influencing the working conditions and labour-law relations at this level is bargaining and conclusion of collective agreement of a higher degree in accordance with the Act on Collective Bargaining.[41] Agreements are concluded between a major number of employers associated on bases of the economy sector where they are active and respective higher trade unions. Collective agreements of a higher degree usually include a part dealing with OSH, regulating also the rights of trade unions and safety and health representatives. Articles concerning OSH in the agreements may stress main legal provisions, can deal with the fields where problems usually arise or can include better conditions for workers comparing with that stipulated by law. Agreements at sectoral level together with the Labour Code[42] and Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection[43] provide elementary base for workers participation on OSH at company level which is the most important from the employees' point of view. Particulars are agreed in the company collective agreement concluded between the employer and the trade union active in the company.

An example agreement of a higher degree and its main OSH articles concerning workers representation in the private sector: Agreement[44] at metallurgy sector concluded between Trade Union KOVO (Odborový zväz KOVO),[45] Independent Christian Union of Slovakia[46] and Association of Metallurgy, Mining Industry and Geology SR (Zväz hutníctva, ťažobného priemyslu a geológie SR)[47] for years 2012 – 2013:

  • employers are obliged to consult with the trade union body all fundamental issues concerning labour protection and working environment,
  • reports on the state of OSH shall be submitted by employers to the competent trade union body within an agreed time,
  • employers will ensure performance of common inspection on OSH at all his sites in collaboration with the trade union and the participation of safety and health representative(s) at least once a year. The results of these inspections shall be discussed by employers with the trade union and measures shall be taken by employers to remedy the deficiencies,
  • compensation of occupational accidents or recognised occupational diseases shall be decided by the employers' compensation committee with the participation of a representative of a trade union,
  • employers shall provide necessary time off to the members of the trade union body to exercise OSH inspection,
  • employers shall announce the occurrence of occupational accidents and illnesses to the trade union body and shall enable trade union representative to participate in investigation,
  • employers are obliged to provide education and adequate time off with wage compensation to safety and health representatives and to create adequate conditions required for the execution of their function,
  • employers shall respect the right of trade unions to carry out inspections on the state of OSH, trade unions in particular have the right
    • to inspect how the employer performances his obligations with regard to OSH, whether he creates conditions for safe work and to check the employer’s management of personal protective equipment,
    • to inspect whether an employer properly investigates occupational accidents, and to participate in the investigation, or to investigate such by itself,
    • to request the employer to correct deficiencies in operations, machinery and equipment or in working procedures, and to stop work if there is an imminent grave threat to the life or health of persons present in the area.

Agreements of higher degree at sectoral level with similar wording concerning OSH participation of workers are concluded for different sectors of economy, e.g. construction industry, transportation services, timber industry, power industry, business and tourism services, financial services, food industry, glassmaking, engineering, water, medical, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, agriculture and forestry, civil aviation. List of concluded collective agreements of higher degree[48] is available on the web page of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic.[49]

In the public sector two main agreements of higher degree are concluded:

  • Agreement for employees in civil service[50] - for state employees,
  • Agreement for employees in public service[51] - for example employees in the educational system, research institutions, local government bodies etc.

Agreements are concluded by the Government of Slovakia and the main trade union organisations (KOZ SR, Independent Christian Trade Unions of Slovakia, General Free Trade Union). These two agreements do not have particular provisions on OSH. For civil service Act on civil service[52] includes articles concerning participation of trade unions on OSH issues. According to them the trade union body has the right to carry out inspection over the state of OSH, the right to review the management of personal protective equipment, the right to check if accidents at work and occupational diseases are properly investigated, and the right to participate in discussions on OSH issues. The general legal OSH framework for the public sector is set mainly in the Labour Code[53] and the Act on Occupational Safety and Health protection.[54] Some of its provisions can be limited by special acts valid only for civil service and public service.

At sectoral level there are no standing common committees created from employers and trade union representatives to deal with OSH issues. OSH experts of both sides usually participate in the bargaining of collective agreement of higher degree.

Besides bargaining, at sectoral level, social partners co-operate on educational, research and different OSH improving activities. Together they discuss various topics on conferences, workshops and meetings. If employers or trade unions organise some event concerning OSH they invite experts of partner's side and provide them possibility to express their points of view.

Generally, if companies of certain sectors of the economy are covered by agreements of higher degree and consequently by company collective agreements institutional participation of workers in OSH reaches a much higher level. That is the case for bigger and traditionally domestic companies (existing for decades), for great multinational companies and in the public sector. A very important factor is that collective agreements, where conditions of workers participation are specified, can be concluded only by trade unions. On the other hand, in companies with a smaller number of employees usually no trade union is present and workers have to exercise their rights concerning OSH only by themselves. Sometimes work councils are present in enterprises but so far it is not a traditional form of worker representation in Slovakia at all and its position and rights are not as strong as those of trade unions.

Company level

At Company level workers' participation on OSH is the most relevant for employees in Slovakia. According to legal provisions workers' representatives and/or workers themselves are entitled to take part in processes dealing with OSH at their workplaces. Legal framework and collective agreements if concluded provide wider possibilities for indirect representation which can be realised through trade unions, works councils, workers' delegates and safety and health representatives. Employers prefer co-operation with a smaller number of partners (workers representatives) who usually have at least some experience in OSH or expertise in topics concerning their workplaces. Employers are obliged to fulfil certain legal provisions towards all employees and have to enable them to participate in solving some OSH issues if there is no form of workers' representation at the company. This direct participation of workers does not have such a wide scope compared to the indirect one. Through indirect representation employees are able to carry out more effective influence on their working conditions and all OSH issues concerning their workplaces.

Indirect participation of workers

A general definition of types of employees representation is given by the § 11a) of the Labour Code.[55] Workers can be represented by the competent trade union body, works council or workers' delegate. A safety and health representative is also an employees' representative but only for the issues concerning OSH. Generally, all types of workers' representatives are entitled to be involved by the employer to participate in solving OSH issues. According to the legal provisions, their rights differ slightly, and in some cases very much. All employees involved in workers representation are given special legal protection so that they cannot be persecuted for their activities concerning OSH. The Legal framework for workers' representation is valid similarly for the private and public sector. But its scope in the public sector may be limited by special regulation for some activities (police force, emergency services, professional soldiers).

The participation of workers in OSH is ensured by an existing legal framework in Slovakia and employers are obliged to fulfil its requirements towards all workers' representatives active at the enterprise (trade union, works council, workers' delegate, safety and health representative). If there are more types of worker representation present at the company the employer shall enable all of them to duly participate in OSH. Particulars are usually specified in the collective agreement if concluded. The most important methods or tools for the participation of workers through their representatives come from the:

  • Labour Code.[56] According to its provisions:
    • (§ 146) An employer, employees or employees’ representatives for OSH and trade union shall jointly co-operate in the field of OSH (planning and execution of measures). This is the general declaration or proclamation on workers' representation and workers' involvement in OSH.
    • (§ 39) Internal rules for securing OSH issued by the employer are valid only when they are approved by workers' representatives (OSH rules are issued by the employer with the agreement of workers' representatives). This is the strongest tool of joint decision-making in OSH for workers' representatives because internal rules for securing OSH have a similar power to the general legal framework. This means that the internal rules are legally binding for both employees and employer. The Labour Inspectorate decides within 15 days about the wording of any controversial rule if the employer and the workers' representatives do not reach a conclusion. This decision is binding for both parts.

The problem with this provision is that its wording is sometimes changed, depending on the political orientation of the government in power: joint decision-making is replaced by discussion. This later means only consultation instead of agreement.

  • Act on OSH.[57] According to it:
    • (Article 20) The Commission for Safety and Health Protection at Work (Komisia pre bezpečnosť a ochranu zdravia pri práci) or colloquially OSH Commission (Komisia BOZP) must be established at an employer who employs more than 100 employees (for other employers it is not obligatory but they also have the right). The OSH Commission is a consultative and advisory body to the employer consisting of employees' representatives for OSH and the employer's representatives, mainly OSH professionals. Employees' representatives must come to more than one half of the members of the Commission. The members of the OSH Commission on behalf of workers are usually proposed by the trade union, if there is any operating at the employer. If not, employees' representatives for OSH give proposals to commission member appointments agreed among them. The OSH Commission has to meet at least once a year and is empowered to evaluate the situation in the field of OSH, to provide proposals for improving measures, to deal with accident at occupational and diseases, to discuss all OSH concerning issues.

Despite the fact that the OSH Commission is only an advisory body (not a decision-making body), it is the official forum for participation of workers' representatives and provides forum for co-operation with the employer's OSH professionals. If trade unions operate in the company their most experienced officials are nominated to the OSH Commission. What is agreed in the commission is usually accepted by the employer and the employees too. It is a practical experience that OSH results are much better at employers where OSH Commissions are established and work on a regular basis, the commission has a good impact on the OSH performance. On the other hand, in many cases the OSH Commission does not work properly but is only established formally or even not established at all. OSH performance in such enterprises is not very good. However, this is not a rule but a general observation.

    • (Article 19) Employees' representatives for OSH shall be appointed. Employees' representatives for OSH have the right to inspect workplaces where they are active, to request information about facts influencing OSH, to discuss OSH topics with the trade union or the works council or the OSH experts from outside the company, to submit proposals of measures for improvement of OSH, to request the employer remove identified shortcomings, to ask help from the Labour Inspectorate or other state supervisory bodies and to take part in their inspection at the company, to participate in investigations of accidents at work and occupational diseases, to take part in the risk assessment.

The safety and health representative is the most widespread type of representation of workers in the field of OSH. If a trade union operates at the company it usually nominates trade union members to this function and closely co-operates with them, provides them all possible help, training and protection. If there is no trade union in the company, employees' representatives for OSH can co-operate with a works council if present or only among themselves. In this case their activity may be very influenced by the employer. If the employer’s attitude is positive towards OSH then employees' representatives for OSH activities are supported. Sometimes additional financial rewards or other benefits are used to motivate them. This is often specified in collective agreements.

    • (Article 10) The Employer is obliged to enable the employees or employees' representatives for OSH to participate in solving OSH issues and discuss with them all topics which can have an influence on OSH.

Employees or employees' representatives have the right to express their opinion about OSH documentation, OSH policy, selection of working equipment, personal protective equipment, work technologies, work organisation, the performance of preventive and protective services, risk assessment, determination of protective measures on accidents at work and occupational diseases, OSH training of workers and employees' representatives for OSH. This participation has the form of discussion or consultation. Employees or employees' representatives may express their standpoints and the employer can take them into account or make decision without taking them into account. In practice this means that workers' representatives have to persuade employer's managers about their solution, e.g. which type of personal protective equipment should be used.

Trade unions
Historically, trade unions are the most traditional form of representation of workers in Slovakia. Despite the fact that membership is decreasing, especially in certain sectors of economy, the position of trade unions is still very strong (e.g. mining, metallurgy, power industry, engineering, chemical industry). The same is valid for the public sector in which trade unions in the education sector are exceptionally influential. The main advantage of the trade union is that it is the only entity that is entitled to collective bargaining on behalf of workers. Through collective agreement there are possibilities to negotiate about better conditions for workers (shorter working time, wage increase, longer paid holiday, protection from dismissals) including those concerning OSH. Trade unions can be active at the workplace in accordance with the Labour Code,[58] part 10 and the employer is obliged to allow the operation of trade union organisations at the workplace. If there is more than one trade union in the company they shall act in compliance, if not so, the employer negotiates with the trade union of the highest membership. Trade union represents not only its members but all employees in labour-law relations towards the employer. Method of election to trade union bodies is regulated by the bylaws and can differ in trade unions but usually general election goes on among the members. Theoretically trade unions can be present at companies with a minimum of three employees as this is a legal threshold for establishing trade union organisations. The 2009 ESENER survey confirmed that recognised workplace trade union representatives are uncommon in small enterprises (17-25%). The rate gradually increases by company size: 45% for medium enterprises and 86% in enterprises with 500 or more employees.[59] The strongest rights and a specific position are given to the trade union. This is entitled for collective bargaining and through it can ensure more advantageous OSH conditions for workers – e.g. shorter working hours, better overtime work conditions, safety breaks, medical surveillance above the scope of the law, rehabilitation stays, better OSH education and training, financial motivation for employees' safety representatives. At employers where trade unions are active, only trade unions are entitled to carry out institutional OSH inspection at the workplace on behalf of its workers. The trade union body or trade union labour inspector has to draw up an official report of such an inspection. Findings about deficiencies shall be described in the report. The employer shall express their opinion about the findings and corrective actions in the report. Reports may be submitted to the Labour Inspectorate or the National Labour Inspectorate[60] if needed. Such trade union inspection is regarded as the social control and involvement in OSH and it is financially supported by the State. It is carried out mainly by union professional labour inspectors in practice, usually in co-operation with members of the trade union body present at the employer. Only trade unions have the right to request the employer to stop the work immediately if there is an imminent danger to the life or health of the workers or any person present at the workplace. The employer is obliged to do so.

Works council
A works council is a body which represents all the employees of an employer. According to the § 233 and 234 of Labour Code[61] a works council can be formed at an employer that employs at least 50 employees. Works councils do not have a legal entity and they are not entitled to conclude agreements. Elections of the members of the works council shall be ensured by the employer under written request of at least 10% of the employees. All employees who have worked for the employer for at least three months have the right to elect members of the works council. The works council has to have at least three members, from 101 to 500 employees shall comprise at least one additional member for each 100 employees, from 501 to 1000 employees at least one additional member, from 1001 and more employees at least one additional member for each 1000 employees. The mandate of the works council lasts for four years. A works council and a trade union may be present at the employer at the same time. Then the trade union body has the right for collective bargaining, to joint decision making, to carry out monitoring of activities and for information. The works council has the right for consultation and information. The 2009 ESENER survey showed that 32-42% of small enterprises have Joint Consultative Committee, Employee Forum or equivalent body, and ration increase to 74% for enterprises with 500 or more employees.[62]

Workers' delegate / works trustee
Under the provision § 233 of the Labour Code[63] at an employer, which employs less than 50 employees but more than 5 employees a workers' delegate (or works trustee) may operate. A workers' delegate is elected directly, requiring an absolute majority of the employees present at the voting. The period in office of the workers' delegate is four years. The rights of a workers' delegate are the same as the rights of a works council. A workers' delegate cannot operate at the same time as a works council. However, he/she can be present together with a trade union at companies with less than 50 workers.

Employee safety representatives (Zástupca zamestnancov pre bezpečnosť)
It is established in accordance with Article 19 of the Act on OSH that one or more employee safety representatives shall be appointed at the company.[64] There is no legal threshold given in the law which theoretically means that if there is one employee at a company he/she should be appointed as safety representative but in practice it does not work that way. The employer appoints one or several employees on the proposal of the trade union body or the works council. The representative is elected by the employees if neither trade union nor works council operates at the company. An employee safety representative can only be assigned when he/she agrees with it. Thus, there can be companies where no representative is appointed because none of the employees accept the appointment. One employee safety representative in higher risk sectors of economy (industry) may represent a maximum of 50 employees. In other cases (e. g. financial or other services) one representative may represent up to 100 employees. The 2009 ESENER survey showed that around the half of small enterprises have (health and) safety representative (53-56%) and the rate increases to 72% for companies with 50 to 499 employees. Representatives are most frequent in larger enterprises. Health and safety committees are almost present in every enterprise with 500 or more employees. The rate is proportional to the company size: 24-34% in small enterprises.[65]
The following is an example to workers' involvement: in a big industrial company in East Slovakia the top management, the OSH experts of the company and trade union agreed on creating and implementing a sophisticated software application for employees' representatives for OSH. The company employed almost 13,000 employees and there were more than 500 employees' representatives for OSH appointed in it. All employees' representatives for OSH had their individual access to the software application and could record their findings; ranging from dangerous workplace conditions and not safe working procedures to proposals for OSH improvement. Responsible manager, safety engineer and trade union official of respective workplace were notified immediately (via e-mail) when new finding was recorded. A responsible manager determined on corrective actions setting deadlines. Managers, safety engineers, trade union and employees' representatives for OSH took place in the discussion of issues – if needed. All records were stored in an electronic form and discussion could be initiated about them at any time. In 2012 more than 1100 findings of employees' representatives for OSH were recorded to this application and used for improvement in the field of OSH. The company was recognised as one of the best from the point of view to the responsible approach to OSH, both in Slovakia and world wide. This project won the Slovak Good Practice Award of the EU-OSHA[66] campaign "Working together for risk prevention" in 2012 and was selected into the ten commended entries at the European level.

Direct participation of workers

There is no specific mechanism for direct workers' participation incorporated into the legal framework of Slovakia. Indirect representation of workers in OSH is preferred. Direct participation takes place only if there is no form of representation present at the company. According to Article 10 of the Act on OSH,[67] the employer is obliged to enable the employees or employees’ representatives for OSH to participate in solving OSH issues and discuss with them all topics which can have an influence on OSH. Due to this wording ("or"), the employer fulfils his obligations towards employees' representatives for OSH (and do not have to do it towards all employees) if there are employees' representatives for OSH. The employer shall fulfil legal requirements towards employees directly if there is no form of workers' representation present at the company. Another case when direct participation of workers comes into action is described in the Act on OSH,[68] Article 19, dealing with employees' representatives for OSH. In this article provision is given that the employer shall provide all the competencies to all workers except the right to control workplaces, which is guaranteed by law only to workers' representatives, if there is no safety and health representative appointed at the company. If one of the described situations comes into existence at the employer, it raises the question whether the employer is capable of involving all workers or only some of them, and then which of them. It logically explains why workers participation through representatives is more advantageous and practical even for the employer. It is more preferred by workers too because, from a professional point of view, their representatives have better knowledge of OSH and can negotiate and enforce more satisfying working conditions and a higher level of OSH.

Conclusion

The framework of workers' participation in Slovakia is in compliance with binding EU legislation. The system emphasises the indirect mechanism of participation through workers' representation. This is preferred by both parties – employers and employees. Direct participation is activated only when no form of workers' representation is present at a company. Based on historical tradition the most powerful rights are given to trade unions (the right to inspection and the right to ask the employer to stop the work immediately in case of imminent danger). They have the exclusive right to conclude collective agreements, in which better OSH conditions (above the scope given by general legislation) can be negotiated. The most widespread form of workers' participation is in the form of safety and health representatives who are present everywhere if at least one employee is willing to carry out this function. The most effective combination in practice seems to be when a trade union is active at a company and covers the employees' representatives for OSH (protection, co-operation, help), and a collective agreement is concluded. A shortcoming of this solution is that only less than half of the workers in Slovakia are covered by collective agreements. Employees' representatives for OSH acting on their own can be successful if they are strong personalities. Otherwise they are isolated and often fall into inactivity. In companies with more than 100 employees (and voluntarily in other companies) the best platform for workers participation and co-operation with the employer is the OSH Commission. Workers' participation may be limited by employers with negative attitudes to OSH. In such cases OSH Commission and employees' representatives for OSH exist only formally on paper and they do not work on a regular basis. In these companies OSH performance is usually not very good. In the private and public sector workers' participation and involvement is regulated in a similar way. Some legal provisions may be limited or excluded by law only in the public sector (police, army, special services). All types of workers' representatives in both private and public sectors get help from the State Labour Inspection and other supervisory authorities. Support of the workers participation and activation of all representatives of employees in the field of OSH is an elementary precondition for further improvement of the working environment and the protection of working people in Slovakia.

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Contributors

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