STA, 7 September 2020 - Slovenia has for years now been witnessing a rise of precarious forms of labour, which mostly exclude the right to paid sick leave, holiday, lunch and transport allowances. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse and while NGOs, calling for systemic changes, are pessimistic, the Labour Ministry is planning some steps in the autumn.
Absent a formal definition of precarious work in Slovenia, estimates of the number of precarious workers vary. The Statistics Office, counting student workers, agency workers, those working short-time involuntarily, and the self-employed working for a single employer, put the figure at 39,000 in the first quarter this year.
The Movement for Dignified Work and Welfare Society estimates the figure much higher, at between 200,000 and 250,000, as it also factors in those on fixed-term contracts and the self-employed who work for several clients but are exposed to competition.
Speaking with the STA, Mirsad Begić of the ZSSS trade union confederation pointed the finger at state institutions and employers as regards the absence of a single definition, while he also took issue with the distinguishing between legal and illegal precarious labour arrangements.
He argued this took normal labour arrangements out of the picture and suggested precarious work was only about exploitation that is illegal. "Such a rendering of the concept is misleading, since people are often excessively exploited even in entirely legal forms of work."
Borut Brezar in Hana Radilovič of the the Movement for Dignified Work and Welfare Society moreover warned that the coronavirus crisis further aggravated the status of precarious workers, who often live below the poverty line.
A study conducted recently among the self-employed showed a third were feeling depressed while 14% even had suicidal thoughts after starting the path of self-employment.
Aid provided to the self-employed during the epidemic amounted to EUR 350 in basic income in March and EUR 700 each in April and May along with covered social contributions.
While calling for systemic measures, the union and movement are pessimistic as regards promises of political action. "It seems that it still holds in politics that changes are avoided by forming a taskforce," said Brezar and Radilovič, pointing out this had also happened without any results under the past two governments.
The movement is proposing a minimum hourly wage for precarious work forms and paid sick-leave for the self-employed, while it also promotes changes to public procurement rules, which often prioritise cheap bidders that exploit workers.
Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Janez Cigler Kralj told the STA he was aware of the negative impact of precarious work at the micro and macro levels.
"At the micro level we speak of negative effects in terms of the absence of minimal legal, economic and social security. At the macro level, it is the existence and maintenance of social security systems and tax policy that are affected," he said.
Calling for measures based on in-depth studies, he said he was looking forward to the results of a multidisciplinary analysis of precarious work, which will be presented in the autumn. "If needed, we will propose measures on the basis of this," he announced.
One perceived issue is the absence of collective organisation among precarious workers. Begić pointed out that a Trade Union of Precarious Workers had been formed almost four years ago but had so far failed to win proper recognition.
"There have been no tangible results due to the difficult situation of those affected, the tough conditions for unions in general and scarce resources," he said.