Business

16 Jun 2022, 15:12 PM

STA, 16 June 2022 - Slovenian real estate fund Equinox will transfer management of three hotels in the centre of Ljubljana, among them the iconic Grand Hotel Union, to Spanish group Grupo Hotusa for 20 years with the option of two five-year extensions, its executive director Matej Rigelnik told the press on Thursday. The deal is worth at least EUR 100 million.

The Spanish group will manage Grand Hotel Union, Hotel Lev and uHotel, with Exqinox entitled to a minimum rent regardless of how well they do, which translates into more than EUR 100 million in 20 years. The contract also sets down a variable part of the rent which will depend on revenue growth, Rigelnik said.

Equinox was incorporated in May 2021 with the split of the real estate branch from Union Hoteli Group, which runs the three hotels and has been renamed Union Hotels Collection.

Concluding the deal with Grupo Hotusa, Equinox "has set itself on the path of a proper real estate firm", Rigelnik said.

"We're aware that the current ownership structure of Union Hotels Collection and Equinox, where we have practically the same corporate management, entails a significant conflict of interest, which will be eliminated with the management of these properties being transferred on to a foreign strategic partner."

He believes this will have a positive impact on Equinox's value.

He said the business model they pursue is well known in the West, where owners, investors, operators and brands are not under the same umbrella. A clear division is important because there are specifics in managing property or operating a company, he stressed.

Rigelnik finds this business model more sustainable, and at a time of a complex macroeconomic situation, such as the war in Ukraine or inflation, also less risky.

Equinox will generate income from rents, with the difference between rents and costs to be paid to shareholders in the form of dividends.

Rigelnik was however more reserved when talking about Union Hotels Collection, saying only that the Spanish group will take over its employees.

Clara Lopez Sanjurjo from Grupo Hotusa said the group had more than 40 years of experience in various segments of tourism.

Its hotel management business, Eurostars Hotels, was founded in 2005, has 5,000 staff and manages 235 hotels in 17 countries on five continents, the three Slovenian hotels excluded.

It is the leading hotel chain in Spain and the ninth in Europe, she said, adding that one of the reasons they had chosen Ljubljana was its history and the location at the heart of Europe, a developing economy, its increasing popularity among tourists, as well as safety and favourable environmental parameters.

Given the group's appreciation of the cultural heritage of cities and hotels, she said they will keep the name of Grand Hotel Union, which opened back in 1905.

Following the news conference, trading in Equinox shares resumed on the Ljubljana Stock Exchange after it was suspended on Wednesday.

16 Jun 2022, 14:25 PM

STA, 16 June 2022 - Prime Minister Robert Golob has announced regulation of gas and electricity prices as possible additional measures to fight price hikes, adding that the government also intends to make public the prices of the basic food basket at individual retailers.

Speaking for the commercial POP TV and the public broadcaster TV Slovenija on Wednesday evening, Golob said that several measures were being planned when it came to the high electricity and gas prices.

He announced that legislation was in the works that would enable "regulation of electricity and gas prices also for households and all individual consumers, for example in multi-apartment buildings and the like."

Golob explained yesterday's government decision to regulate the prices of motor fuels outside the motorway network and re-liberalise them along the motorways for one year by saying that "consumers expect predictability and comparability with other countries."

"The system being introduced brings exactly this," the prime minister said, noting that EUR 150 million in claims from fuel retailers to be compensated for losses related to the government regulation had been filed in less than two months.

The prime minister said that such a model was unsustainable, and such retroactive claims are inappropriate, adding that the government would continue to negotiate with fuel retailers over this issue.

The largest Slovenian fuel retailer Petrol welcomed the announced abolition of full regulation of prices that has been in force since 11 May, and also from mid-March and the end of April.

The company said that the current model was disproportionate and unsustainable. "It only burdens retailers of petroleum products, who are forced to sell fuel below the purchase costs, every litre sold is a loss," it added.

The fuel retailer OMV Slovenija also commented on the damage claims, saying that it had not received any feedback from the relevant ministries so far. "We expect an invitation for a coordinating meeting from the government," the company added.

Golob also announced talks with food retailers. He noted that these had very different prices and margins, so the government would make it very clear where the prices of the basic food basket were low "and where they are obviously astronomical".

He noted that the government would not do negative advertising, but positive advertising for those who would demonstrate the lowest prices of the basic food basket and the lowest margins.

15 Jun 2022, 17:09 PM

STA, 15 June 2022 - Prime Minister Robert Golob set out the first government measure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis on Wednesday, announcing a return to a model where fuel retailers' price margins at service stations outside motorways are regulated while prices of fuels sold along motorways will be liberalised. The new regime will kick in for a year on 21 June.

Oil prices have gone up from EUR 70 per tonne a year and a half ago to over EUR 120, which has not been reflected fully in retail prices, Golob said, adding that Slovenia had different price regimes during this period.

"We had a regime that forcibly introduced regulation of retail prices. That's why we now have millions [of euros] worth of claims for compensation of damages [from fuel retailers]. This regime is totally unsustainable," said Golob.

"Outside motorways the market unfortunately doesn't work. All the providers have almost identical prices all the time. If the market doesn't work a return to retailers' margin regulation makes sense," he said.

The government was looking to find a balance between market prices where "each one of us, the state, retailers and consumers, carry a part of the burden".

Under the new model fuel prices would be similar to those in Croatia, but below those in Austria or Italy. Given Tuesday's stock market prices, regular petrol sold outside motorways could go up to just above EUR 1.70 a litre and on motorways by up to 20% and more.

"We've been looking at how much our consumers can take," said Golob.

The previous government reintroduced regulation of prices of motor fuels in May, less than two weeks after it lifted previous price caps. Since 11 May, the maximum retail price has been set at EUR 1.560 a litre for regular and EUR 1.668 a litre for diesel. Wholesale prices have also been capped.

Golob said the government's position was that fuel companies' claims to be reimbursed for damages as a result of being forced to sell at lower prices were unwarranted, but added that more would be clear after meetings with them.

Economy Minister Matjaž Han said the government had to act fast as fuel prices affected everyone and the current regulation was causing the state a major shortfall which potential reimbursements to retailers could raise to hundreds of millions of euros by the year's end.

The government will also introduce some mitigation measures on 1 July, which it plans to adopt next week. Golob mentioned a 16% increase in the tax-free amount of commuting cost reimbursement, an increase in the reimbursement of excise duties for public passenger transport providers and a relief for farmers.

Today, the government temporarily abolished a number of environmental taxes, including the tax on CO2 emissions for diesel, petrol, heating oil and natural gas. This will be in place until 17 August.

Moreover, the cabinet abolished contributions for electricity production using high shares of renewables. This will be in place for a year at the longest. It also reduced to zero the energy efficiency duty.

Together with hauliers, the government will start looking for solutions to prevent fuel price increases from spilling over into higher prices of food and other commodities.

Measures to tackle rising food prices are to follow in June and those to deal with the rising cost of electricity and heating in the first half of July.

"There's enough time to take action. These measures will also follow the same principle as for petroleum products, that is predictability for all stakeholders," said Golob.

14 Jun 2022, 10:38 AM

STA 13 June 2022 - Prime Minister Robert Golob visited Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, on Monday, underlining that the only right way forward for the country is polycentric development. He believes the eastern half of the country needs a capital that would equal Ljubljana, adding that Maribor has a lot to offer.

The prime minister believes that Maribor may develop better in the future and that the city will gain back "some of its former splendour".

Pointing out an example of good practice of a decentralised state, Golob talked about the Energy Agency, which is based in Maribor.

"This is one of the few, I'm afraid even the only state institution which has been based in Maribor ever since it was established. It is independent and doing a very good job."

The prime minister believes that Maribor has enough human resources and expertise for an institution of such a calibre.

He believes that decentralisation must be based on advantages of individual areas. One cannot expect that all regions will develop equally in all fields, he said, adding that north-eastern Slovenia had the most potential in agriculture.

Golob was accompanied on his working visit by Digital Transformation Minister Emilija Stojmenova Duh and Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Food Irena Šinko.

Among other things, they visited the Energy Agency and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, discussing government's priorities, including green transition, food, agriculture and self-sufficiency.

Maribor University Rector Zdravko Kačič welcomed Golob's decision to make Maribor the destination of his first visit in his role as prime minister.

"His words show support for our efforts and understanding of the situation in which Maribor and the entire Eastern Cohesion Region have found themselves" as regards unfavourable trends in people commuting daily from Slovenia's border areas to Austria for work, said Kačič.

Golob also met Maribor Mayor Saša Arsenovič. The latter told the press they discussed a number of topics, including regional development and de-bureaucratisation, as well as elderly care, youth and work force drain.

"We also agreed that greater support will be needed for the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy ... to boost the success of drawing funds from direct operations, not only for projects aimed at closing development gaps between regions," said Arsenovič.

When asked whether Golob and Arsenovič discussed possible cooperation for the upcoming local election, the mayor said "not in the least", while Golob said his Freedom Movement would have its own candidates contend in all urban municipalities. Slovenia has 212 municipalities, of which 12 have urban municipalities.

Golob said he would visit Maribor again soon alongside Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan to discuss health care. He said the Health Ministry had started working on a Covid exit strategy.

13 Jun 2022, 15:17 PM

STA, 13 June 2022 - The first of the seven tunnels on route of the new railway linking the port town of Koper with the Divača railway junction was broken through on Monday with officials telling the ceremony they could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The hole-through ceremony for the Mlinarji tunnel was attended by the infrastructure ministers from Slovenia and Turkey as the track is being built by the Slovenian company Kolektor CPG in cooperation with its Turkish partners Yapi Merkezi and Özaltin.

Slated for completion in 2025, with the track due to open the following year, the project is valued at little below one billion euros in total, but officials today indicated its price tag could increase by up to EUR 100 million due to rising prices.

In his address, Slovenian Infrastructure Minister Bojan Kumer recalled the long history of the project, expressing pleasure at being able to be present at such an important milestone.

The new track, taking a completely new route to the existing railway between Koper and Divača, is to increase the maximum throughput capacity from 94 to 212 trains daily and the transport capacity from the current 14 million to 36.9 million tonnes a year.

"The distance will be cut from 44 kilometres to 27 kilometres. Travel times and the impact on the environment and local population will be reduced," Kumer said.

He pledged for the new government to fast-track the implementation of a double-track line, which will allow for even more traffic and let the people living along the existing railway live a safe and peaceful life.

Pavle Hevka, the CEO of 2TDK, the state-run company managing the project, said the work on the track was 43 days ahead of the schedule, and in the case of the Milinarji tunnel 10% below the budget of EUR 7 million.

Just days ago they had excavated five out of a total of 37 kilometres of tunnels. "We're still looking at many challenges and concerns ahead, from rising prices of materials to difficulties getting work permits, but I'm confident we’ll beat them off on time."

Hevka said 2TDK was facing demands for annexes to contracts due to rising prices. The proposal was for the contracting authority to cover price hikes above 10%, which would now need to be discussed by the Infrastructure Ministry.

He also announced an update of the investment plan with the rough estimate being that the cost of the project could increase by EUR 100 million. However, he also pointed to "huge savings" that had been made.

The minister said he had been assured by the Turkish contractors they had everything under control and supplies guaranteed. "It's true that prices are going up. We'll see what it means for the investment going forward."

Kumer would not talk about potential replacements at the helm of 2TDK beyond saying the state of play would be reviewed.

The ceremony also featured Alenka Bratušek, a state secretary at the ministry and a former infrastructure minister, Turkish Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoglu and representatives of the contractors.

10 Jun 2022, 17:43 PM

STA, 10 June 2022 - Aljaž Dobnikar, a software development engineer at Plume Design, and Matej Duraković, a talent acquisition partner at IBM Slovenija, were declared Top Potentials of the Year by AmCham Slovenia on Thursday evening.

Dobnikar and Duraković were selected among the five superfinalists in the 12th generation of the AmCham Young Professionals programme.

The other superfinalists were Diana Berte, a marketing & China relations specialist at Instrumentation Technologies, Marko Maučec, director of development and co-owner of Escapebox, and Tjaša Tomšič, chief operating officer at PDiVizija.

The winners were selected by their colleagues, a panel of experts and the audience present at the award ceremony on Thursday.

"The young are those who inspire us to want to be better and do more as a business community. This is why I believe the young platform is the best that AmCham can give, not only to Slovenia but also to Europe and worldwide," Ajša Vodnik, CEO of AmCham Slovenia, said.

The Top Potential of the Year awards is part of the Young Professionals Programme through which AmCham promotes and trains next generation business leaders.

Young leaders, aged 25 to 35, are suggested for the programme by their superiors. The programme features workshops, lectures, debates with business leaders, field visits and a weekend meeting, among other activities.

09 Jun 2022, 15:27 PM

STA, 9 June 2022 - The Kozina fishpacking companies exposed for alleged modern slavery practices earlier this week have been issued a ban on working with foreign workers as the authorities are looking into suspicions of forced labour and human trafficking.

Fishpacking Plant in Kozina Linked to Former State Secretary Accused of Exploiting Staff

Addressing reporters on Thursday, Jadranko Grlić, the chief labour inspector, said the maltreatment of workers, first reported about by TV Slovenija and then confirmed by an NGO helping migrant workers at a press conference on Wednesday, was unacceptable.

The companies concerned are owned by the family of Boris Šuštar, who in the early 2000s was convicted for taking bribes while serving as a state secretary in 1997-2000.

Grlić noted that labour inspectors had already conducted inspections at the companies Marinblu and Selea in the past, taking measures. TV Slovenija on Tuesday reported those concerned infringements over pay, holiday allowance, work hours, breaks and rest.

Prompted by new allegations of severe violations, for which the worker support NGO Delavska Svetovalnica filed a criminal complaint against the companies with the Koper prosecution office last week, inspectors resumed their oversight together with the Financial Administration and the police in late May. Grlić said inspections were also under way since early this morning.

The inspectors have found the companies have been provided with foreign labour force by a broker that is not registered as an agency to supply labour force so the companies will be banned from working with foreign workers. The companies have also been banned from operating certain machinery until they have provided relevant proofs the machines are safe to operate.

Both Grlić and Economy Ministry State Secretary Dan Juvan urged workers to report violations on time with Juvan promising the ministry would protect them.

Juvan also announced enhanced inspection oversight and legislative changes to make it easier to prosecute this type of crime.

He said the violations reported by the media were not just violations of labour laws but of basic norms of the civilisation, which happened daily in third world countries but obviously in Slovenia as well. "We cannot pretend this is a lone case."

"Companies that apply such practices have no place in Slovenia," said Juvan, pledging for the ministry to do all in its power for such brutal exploitation to stop.

He said the information and inquiries so far indicated suspicion of the crime of forced labour, one of the signs of human trafficking. This is also currently being assessed by the competent law enforcement authorities. Such an offence carries a prison sentence of between one and 10 years and a fine, regardless of the victim's potential consent.

Each worker suspected of being a victim of such crime is entitled to support, assistance and safe accommodation. If it turns out they have indeed been subject to forced labour and trafficking, they are entitled to free access to the labour market, Juvan said, hoping for a solution to find another, decent work for the workers concerned.

Rosana Šuštar, director of Marinblu and Selea, dismissed the allegations about human exploitation, workplace bullying and non-payment of wages. Holding a press conference, she confirmed that inspections were currently under way at both companies.

The companies have received warnings by the Labour Inspectorate and have to rectify the irregularities within a set deadline, she said.

The Portuguese broker that provided the two companies with foreign labour force has been asked to register its activity in Slovenia within 15 days. At the moment, Marinblu and Selea are permitted to continue to employ their Indian workers, and production has not been halted, the director said.

Commenting on accusations that the Indian workers had been sleeping on the floor in the plant's warehouse, she said that this was supposed to be a temporary arrangement only until another accommodation is ready.

Šuštar said that the companies had never received any fines by relevant inspectors, only warnings, which they had heeded.

08 Jun 2022, 15:29 PM

STA, 8 June 2022 - A fishpacking plant owned by the family of Boris Šuštar, a former state secretary convicted of passive bribery, has been faced with allegations about forcing their workers to work ceaselessly for a pittance and creating intolerable working conditions. A charge has been filed against the company for suspected worker exploitation. 

Šuštar, who was state secretary at the Economy Ministry in 1997-2000, co-founded the seafood wholesale Marinblu with his wife, Rozana Šuštar, as well as another affiliated company Selea. Together they run the fishpacking facility in Kozina in the south-west of the country, near the border with Italy.

Allegations have now emerged that their employees are forced to work long hours or overtime and are pushed to the brink of exhaustion for a maximum of EUR 3.9 per hour, as one of the workers told the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija in a piece that was aired on Tuesday evening.

They allegedly receive no overtime pay, or if they do, it is less than it should have been and under the table. Moreover, the company subtracts from their wages employment costs that should have been covered by the employer, the anonymous worker revealed for the public broadcaster.

What also came to light are screenshots of employer-employee Viber conversations that show that the company monitors their workers non-stop. They are rebuked via the instant messaging app for what the Šuštar family sees as taking too many breaks or not working good enough.

"Go for a snack during a break, don't go for a snack a hundred times even if you work 15 hours. Hang in there, we're all in the same boat," reads one of such rebukes. Another one says: "Every minute counts. What are you waiting for!?????"

"Total terror through video surveillance. Cameras are monitoring you, there is no free time, your private life is invaded with constant phone calls; these workers are completely physically, mentally, financially and emotionally exhausted.

"This is clearly a situation of systematic exploitation of workers. Such a company must not exist! And what is even more horrifying is that they try to indoctrinate workers by a clever manipulation to make them believe they are all in the same boat, meaning the owner (employer) and the workers," said Goran Lukič with Delavska Svetovalnica, an NGO protecting the rights of workers, especially migrant workers.

Last week, the organisation filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor's office in Koper against both Marinblu and Selea for suspected violations of workers' rights.

RTV Slovenija noted that the concept of "them all being in the same boat" appears to be even more absurd when taking a look at social media profiles of Šuštar family members, who appear to be living an extravagant life, indulging in luxury cruises and parties.

Meanwhile, allegations also accuse them of treating their workers with disrespect and humiliating them. The workers are, for example, marked on the timesheets simply by "Ukrainian 1" or "Ukrainian 2".

The anonymous worker also shared a story of Boris Šuštar coming to the facility, pulling his trousers down to his knees, turning to his employees and telling them they could kiss him on the ass.

Marinblu and Selea employ some 20 workers, most are believed to be from Western Balkan countries or third countries. RTV Slovenija reported that scenes such as Indian workers sleeping on the floor of the plant's warehouse are nothing unusual at the companies, and neither is the fact that the worker who shared his story had worked for 12 hours a day on average and once even for 40 hours non-stop.

Rozana Šuštar, Marinblu director, rejected all the allegations, saying that all their employees worked in accordance with relevant labour laws. She also dismissed allegations that labour inspectors found breaches of labour laws in Selea in the last three years.

The Labour Inspectorate meanwhile said that it had carried out several inspections at Marinblu and Selea in the past, during which it found violations in the areas of wages, holiday bonus, working time, breaks and rest periods.

Economy Minister Matjaž Han said he was "appalled at the working conditions" at the two companies. He expects the competent authorities will immediately do their job and prevent the exploitation of workers.

"Slovenia must be a role model of a well regulated economy in which strict labour rules and environmental standards are respected," he was quoted as saying by the ministry.

Boris Šuštar was sentenced to two years in prison in 2004 for accepting bribes as state secretary. After his release on parole, he was again sentenced to imprisonment in 2007 in a separate trial for fraud during his time as state secretary. He fled to Canada during the second trial while being on parole.

He was extradited to Slovenia in the same year based on an international arrest warrant. He was sentenced to another five and a half years in prison for abuse of office, but was again released on parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence. His EUR 800,000 compensation claim against the state was rejected.

07 Jun 2022, 16:08 PM

STA, 7 June 2022 - The Slovenian business diaspora now has a digital hub, sloglobal.net, at its disposal. The platform will serve as a one-stop shop for all the information needed for successful business and networking for Slovenians on a global scale, the Slovenian Global Business Network said on Tuesday.

"The search for business contacts and connections has already gone digital, but the time of searching for business news on one portal, finding business contacts on another and again looking for business cooperation opportunities on a third is over," the press release says.

"People in the business world don't even have time for that, so they can often miss out on a potential new business connection, contact, news or event," the network added.

The SLO Global platform, organised by the Slovenian Global Business Network with the support of the Office for Slovenians Abroad, the Foreign Ministry and the Slovenian Embassy in Brasilia, is focused exclusively on facilitating business ties between Slovenians who live and do business abroad and would like to connect with other Slovenian businesspeople and companies around the world or in Slovenia.

This new digital tool enables people to search and/or offer products, services and business opportunities around the world, and includes a directory of Slovenian economic institutions, representative offices, associations, chambers and business clubs around the world.

In addition, it provides up-to-date business news, information on business events in Slovenia and around the world, as well as successful business stories.

The platform is largely open to the public, but to access business opportunities or to search for and offer products or services, a (legal) person has to log in to the system or become a member. Membership will be free in the starting months. https://sloglobal.net/

01 Jun 2022, 13:33 PM

STA, 31 May 2022 - The company Nova Obzorja, which publishes weekly Demokracija and web portal Škandal24.si, has a new majority owner. The two-third majority share has been transferred from Hungarian company R-Post-R to NovaTV24.si, the company running the Nova24TV news television channel.

According to data by AJPES, the agency for public legal records, the Hungarian company owned by businessman Peter Schatz, one of the key players in Hungarian PM Viktor Orban's media expansion in the Balkans, is no longer the owner of 65.85% of Nova Obzorja.

As of 25 May, the new majority owner is NovaTV24.si, while the remaining 30.14% is still owned by the Democratic Party (SDS) and 4% by SDS MP Dejan Kaloh.

But based on the share register and other sources, media reported in recent years that three of NovaTV24.si's largest owners were Hungarian companies associated with Orban and his Fidesz party, which has recently been strengthening its rule in Hungary and spreading its influence in the region.

Reportedly, three largest owners of NovaTV24.si are asset management company Hespereia, financial holding Okeanis and media publisher Ridikul, each owning a 29.3% share. The remaining 12.1% are owned by small shareholders, many of whom are prominent SDS members and people associated with the party.

Hespereia also owns 73% of media company Nova Hiša, the company running web portal Nova24TV. The remaining 27% is owned by small shareholders, many of whom are again prominent SDS members and people associated with the party.

Nova Hiša ownership has remained unchanged for now, and there has also been no reports of ownership changes at NovaTV24.si.

According to unofficial information by portal Necenzurirano, the ownership changes are part of preparations for the sale of the entire media empire associated with the SDS and withdrawal of the Hungarian capital.

The Hungarian financing of these media outlets has been the subject of parliamentary inquiries in recent years while media reported before the start of the term of the outgoing Janez Janša government that the issue was also being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation.

01 Jun 2022, 08:10 AM

STA, 31 May - Slovenia's annual inflation hit 8.1% in May, the highest rate since 2002, on the back of soaring fuel and food prices, the latest Statistics Office figures show. The monthly rate stood at 2%.

Liquid fuels were almost 43% more expensive than a year ago, contributing 1.9 percentage points to the headline rate. Food prices, having risen by more than 11%, added another 1.7 points.

Prices in other principal groups rose as well, most notably housing (+10.5%) and cars (+11.1%), respectively contributing 0.8 and 0.6 percentage points to the inflation rate.

The only major segments where prices went down were electricity, which was 15.8% cheaper, and telephone services, which were down 6.3%. Combined, they reduced headline inflation by almost a full percentage point.

At the monthly level inflation stood at 2%, largely due to prices of oil derivatives, clothing, footwear and food. Electricity, natural gas, heating and holidays were more expensive as well.

The harmonised index of consumer prices, an EU benchmark, rose by 8.7% at the annual level.

In its monthly report on the economic situation in Slovenia, the central bank said the effect of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine and the related sanctions on the Slovenian economy has been limited. "The shock is mainly reflected in high energy and raw material price hikes, which additionally power inflation through rising import prices," Banka Slovenije said.

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