In the beginning of the new year we speak with the president of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK) Artūras Černiauskas about the main goals and plans of LPSK.
LPSK: What are the main goals for LPSK in 2018?
A.Č.: Since July 2017 Lithuania has a new Labour Code but there is a lot of work left. A lot of changes were introduced and there are certain difficulties when it comes to interpreting and implementing them. Unfortunately, employers seek to take advantage of the existing confusion. In this situation, LPSK considers it is important to motivate workers to stand for their rights by putting extra efforts into educating them.
It is worth mentioning that now there is an opportunity for employees and employers to negotiate many specific details. In other words, now we have a higher autonomy and can settle many disputes via territorial, sectoral and branch-level collective bargain agreements. Ironically, many employers still prefer to lobby their interests with the help of politicians instead of directly negotiating with the unions. It might sound funny, but they still try to slip through a chimney when the doors are open wide. Time for a lobbying is over, now it is time to negotiate.
The current version of Labour Code is our victory. We worked hard for a long time trying to make it more just and socially oriented. I agree, many aspects of it are disappointing but it is not so discriminative towards the employees as the first version.
The other goal of LPSK is to increase minimum monthly wage. In a Tripartite Council it was agreed that it shall not exceed 50 %, but shall not be lower than 45 % of the average monthly wage. Why is it important? It is a concrete index, which allows us to check at any given day, if the minimum monthly wage in Lithuania is adequate.
LPSK: In 2017 trade unions and employers signed a number of branch-level collective bargaining agreements. Is it an important sign in your opinion?
A.Č.: I would like to single out a collective bargaining agreement for the education sector. Pay rise is a part of the agreement, It is important because mostly this kind of things is a tabu. For example, other agreements (all signed in the public sector) do not regulate the salaries.
Here I would like to remind you, that in the public sector it is not allowed to negotiate for the aspects, which include additional appropriations in the budget. Anyway, that is valid just in case with institution-level collective bargaining agreements and not for branch-level agreements. That is why in 2018 we will put extra pressure on the Lithuanian government to improve the situation in the public sector. As you know the base salary of civil servants has not been restored since the cut in 2009!
LPSK: Recently politics in Lithuania became more socially oriented. What are the reasons?
A.Č.: Partly, this change is a result of our efforts. During regular meetings with representatives of the European Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international organisations the Lithuanian trade unions talked a lot about possible (and expected) negative consequences of this wild liberal approach in our labour market accompanied by low wages. Thankfully, many abroad and home understood that we were right.
LPSK: What is a situation regarding workers from the third countries?
A.Č.: In 2017 three times more Ukrainians, Belorussians, and people from other non-EU countries worked in Lithuania compared to 2016.
If we talk about the illegal work in Lithuania, it is not a big problem. A State labour inspection works effectively enough to ensure that. Minor labour code violations are quite common. For example, a person has a contract according to which he has to work 4 hours but works and gets paid for 8 hours a day. Frankly speaking, it is not always an employer‘s fault. Some of the latter would like to be transparent and to prevent accusations of tax avoidance, yet employees are the ones who insist on it Why? For example, because of debts and their recovery through bailiffs… I would say, it is a growing problem in Lithuania too. This way the state loses a lot of taxes. There is a need for changes.