HomeNewsCroatian unions have won backing for the pension system referendum

Savez samostalnih sindikata Hrvatske

Trg kralja Petra Krešimira IV. 2,
10 000 Zagreb

tel: + 385 1 46 55 616
tel:+ 385 1 46 55 013
fax: + 385 1 46 55 040

Read more

Croatian unions have won backing for the pension system referendum

The trade union referendum initiative 67 is too much has succeeded in collecting sufficient number of signatures to call a referendum on the changes to the pension system.

The three Croatia's representative trade union confederations - Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), Independent Trade Unions of Croatia (NHS) and Association of Croatia Trade Unions (Matica) - launched and led a campaign of the collection of signatures, from 27 April till 11 May 2019 to change the pension system and its recent reform which came into force on January 1, 2019, and which went too far, too quickly. The unions aimed to win backing for the pension system referendum, with key demands being the reduction of the retirement age to 65 from the current 67 years of age and lowering the penalization of early retirement from 0.3 to 0.2 % per month, among other. After the Croatian government ignored the social dialogue and trade union contributions and demands, after it ignored the protests, the unions were left with the referendum as the only option and an opportunity for citizens to state their mind on the reform.

The trade union referendum initiative based its campaign opposing later retirement and stricter penalisation around objections that the Croatian government was trying to impose retirement age which can be increasingly found in western Europe on workers with a lower life expectancy than the EU average, shorter years of healthy life, and working conditions harder and technology at a lower level. Demand for the lover penalisation of early retirement was based on the fact that the majority of early retirees are forced to early retirement due to company closures, poor health or reluctance of employers to employ and to keep older workers.

The initiative gathered twice the number of signatures required for the referendum to be held – 373,568 signatures, i.e. 10 percent of all the voters with Croatian citizenship – 748,624 valid signatures in total, after the control carried out by the initiative. If this number is verified and confirmed by the authorities, it will be the second most successful trade union referendum initiative, right after the 2010 Labour Code changes initiative, which managed to collect 813,000 signatures (717,000 of which were officially validated). Despite the media blackout, including an anti-referendum propaganda from the government, trying to discourage people from supporting the initiative, the trade union initiative succeeded in securing strong visibility and recognizability, and reached more than a million people, gathering a wide support for the campaign, by the public, various civil society organizations and almost all opposition parties, including some from the ruling majority, and more than 4,000 shop stewards, activists and volunteers who helped achieve the success of the campaign.

The signatures were submitted to the speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Mr. Gordan Jandroković, from the centre-right party, on 13 June, in 65 symbolic boxes, together with an explanatory note on the referendum question, and with the demand to the Parliament to call a referendum. The Parliamentary Constitution Committee proposed to task the Government to verify the figure and the validity of signatures, the conclusion yet to be confirmed by the Parliament. When it confirms the number is 10 percent or more of the total number of voters, the Parliament may call a referendum or ask the Constitutional Court to verify if the question is in line with the Constitution. The Constitutional Court then has 30 days to decide and to submit its decision to the Parliament. If it decides the conditions are met, the Parliament has to call a referendum, 20 to 40 days after the decision by the Parliament. If there is a referendum, and if the majority of voters vote in favour of the union demands, the law is automatically adopted (since the referendum question has been worded in the form of the bill), and will enter into force 120 days after the adoption. In this period till the referendum, trade unions still have to convince Croatian citizens that the signature for referendum is not sufficient, and to make sure the turnout is high and the majority votes in favour of the union demands – only that will ensure the victory of the campaign.

Trade unions are now waiting for the subsequent steps by the Croatian authorities, and are preparing for all scenarios. Aware of the political damage of the referendum and the rejection of a major part of the pension reform it could cause, and also because it would come at an inconvenient time – most probably during the election campaign for presidential elections or Croatia's presidency of the EU, the Government has now tried to avoid the referendum and is publicly calling the unions to the table. However, the time for negotiations has long passed – especially with the minister who ignored social dialogue and whose resignation was demanded by the unions – and now is the time for people’s voice to be heard and decision to be taken at the referendum. Although there are still concerns that the institutions – the Constitutional Court, and then the Parliament – will decide against the referendum, trade unions are calling for the respect of the will of people; the referendum would also be an opportunity for the Parliament to help citizens restore faith in top institutions.

For the majority of workers in Croatia, work until 67 is not possible, not today, not in 20 years, having in mind working and living conditions. This is why we were forced to initiate the changes to the Law adopted by the Parliament late last year. Time for negotiations is over. We expect the Parliament and the Government to respect the will of a huge number of citizens and to call a referendum, Mladen Novosel, UATUC President.

The support the unions gained through the campaign is fragile - the disillusioned citizens are struggling to make ends meet in a country that has recovered from its economic crisis, but not its social one. Perseverance, credibility and consistency, trade union unity, as well as the possible victory for workers and citizens with this campaign are key to keeping the support, needed to further strengthen the bargaining position of trade unions, not only to ensure fair and sustainable pension system, but to reinvigorate the genuine social dialogue as a prerequisite for building a society we want, with decent work and decent pensions.