STA, 11 November - As of midnight, employees of the national postal company are on strike, with the representative union saying that the participation rate in the morning shift was above all expectations, with as many as 70% of postal workers deciding to join what is the first ever strike in Pošta Slovenije.
Saša Gržinič, the president of the Trade Union of Postal Workers, told the STA that "according to the preliminary data, there is almost no post office in Slovenia where postmen are not on strike."
According to him, they have been joined by many workers in post offices, and although there are no official numbers, the strike is supported by more than half of all employees of Pošta Slovenije.
Gržinič said that work had stopped all around Slovenia, with the strike being the most intense in the coastal area, where the trade union was based, while the participation rate was also high in Maribor, Celje, Novo Mesto and Kranj.
"We did not expect such a response. We have a thousand members, and we have made 1,600 badges saying STRIKE, and we ran out of them as early as half past seven," he said, adding that non-members had apparently also joined the strike.
Probably joining the strike are Pošta Slovenije employees who are members of the Trade Union of Transport and Communications Workers, which had formally not joined the strike demands and strike.
Postal workers have expressed several demands when announcing the strike a fortnight ago, including a 10% pay rise and an increase in staff by 300 in the company which employs around 6,300 people.
Gržinič said that the state-owned company could not argue that the strike was unwarranted, as the management had issued the instruction that postal workers would have to work overtime in order to take care of mandatory deliveries despite the strike.
According to the trade union, the delivery system collapsed already in the morning due to the high participation rate, as postmen perform only the minimum amount of work required by the relevant law.
"This proves what we have been constantly arguing - that there is a shortage of employees," said Gržinič, adding that the strike was not directed against customers, who indeed already feel the impact of the industrial action.
Letters and packages of up to 10 kilos are delivered as usual, as are international and urgent mail. The services affected include the dissemination of advertisement material, packages of over 10 kilos, payment services, and sale of merchandise at post offices.
The management gave a news conference later in the day at its seat in Maribor, with director general Boris Novak stressing they were willing to discuss a pay rise but in a way that would not jeopardise business and jobs.
Meeting the demand for a 10% pay rise, which would cost the company EUR 12 million a year, would result in Pošta Slovenije starting to operate in the red in 2020.
"We cannot agree to such an unrealistic pay rise. We see the strike as unwarranted, because the existing agreement already improves working conditions," he said.
He also noted the Trade Union of Transport and Communications Workers had not joined the strike, as it considered the two-year deal reached in February as good.
Novak added that a pay rise could be transferred to 2020, when talks on a new collective bargaining agreement would start.
Postmen currently get an average monthly net pay of EUR 1,040, while post office counter employees receive an average EUR 1,194.
The management's goal is to bring positions of the two sides closer together, said Andrej Rihter, a member of the board, so talks with representatives of the striking postal workers are to resume tomorrow.
Rihter questioned the number of striking postal workers provided by the union, noting less than a third of postmen was on strike, the majority in Koper and Celje.
Karmen Lebe Grajf, who represents the company in the talks with the striking workers, admitted any strike was a shock, especially for a system as big as the postal company, but she rejected the trade union's statement that the delivery system had collapsed already in the morning due to the high participation rate.
Novak meanwhile said the damage caused to the company had not yet been accurately assessed, but noted individual clients had already started cancelling contracts.