AIM: start

FRI, 09 NOV 2001 22:57:56 GMT

The Agreement between the Government and the Trade Unions

No Money and No Strike

The workers threatened with a strike in vain: after several months of negotiations, the representatives of the Government and the Trade Unions managed to reach an agreement on the increase of the minimum labour cost by 10 marks. But, the employees will have to wait for that increase until the New Year

AIM Podgorica, October 27, 2001

Formally, it could become dramatic: the Alliance of Independent Trade Unions of Montenegro (SSSCG) last week announced that the workers would go on a general strike if the Government failed to fulfill their demands for the raise of minimum labour cost. Mass protests of discontented workers were announced and in the north of Montenegro they said that they were making preparations for a rally in Podgorica in front of the building of Montenegrin Government.

At a minute to twelve (Prime Minister) Vujanovic's cabinet fulfilled the ultimatum of the strike committee of the Alliance of Independent Trade Unions and raised the minimum labour cost from 80 to 90 marks. But the employed in Montenegrin enterprises will have to wait for this raise until the New Year. The new minimum labour cost will be applied as of January, because otherwise it would be a threat to the liquidity of the budget, as they claim in the Government. The mechanism for the payment of the increase in the salaries for the last three months of this year will be determined by the end of November, as members of the negotiating teams of the Government and the Trade Unions said.

That is how an agreement was finally reached after several-month long negotiations. "We know that the Government has no money, but it must know that the workers also need money in order to survive”, says Danilo Popovic, president of SSSCG. The leaders of the Trade Unions should be satisfied. Especially if one has in mind that as the negotiations proceeded, the idea of the general strike gradually lost support of the membership despite public threats. Trade unions of health service and education declared themselves against the general strike, as well as the trade union of the steel works in Niksic... Put together, they are a considerable number of workers.

The Government was not in a much better position. With the pretext that there is no money in the budget, Vujanovic's cabinet gradually increased its offer in the negotiations, from 83 marks, to 85 and finally to the agreed 90 marks.

Minister of labour and social welfare, Dragisa Burzan, explains the position of the Government. "We were in the situation to choose between two evils, and that is the increase of the minimum labour cost that will badly affect the finances and the purchasing power of the state, and the general strike and slowing down of social reforms - that would be tragic", says Burzan.

That is the reason why the agreement brought evident relief to both parties. Nevertheless, in the Government they are not convinced that this increase will raise the living standard of the poorest workers' population. Burzan says that the raise of the minimum labour cost "will not help the workers in industries, but the ones in the administration, in the field of education and in health services. In any case, it will greatly increase expenses. We calculated that a raise of the minimum labour cost to 96 marks would cause a deficit of 43 million marks".

One of the arguments of the Trade Unions in favour of the raise of the minimum labour cost in the negotiations with the Government was that some Montenegrin enterprises already have a considerably higher minimum labour cost. They are the companies that pay their workers depending on their business operation. It was stated that in Niksic beer brewery the minimum labour cost was 312 marks in June, in Budvanska rivijera 200, in Danilovgrad Zitopromet 174, Primorka 168, Telekom 160, Plantaze 135 marks...

Nevertheless, majority of enterprises in Montenegro are not at all successful in their business operation. It is a question how overjoyed the workers will be by the agreed raise – of only 10 per cent! – especially when one knows that, if it has no money, a company is not obliged to pay the minimum labour cost to its workers. The representatives of the Government stressed this in the negotiations when they claimed that for a factory worker it is all the same whether the labour cost is 90 or 290 marks if the enterprise has no money. The proposal of trade unionists of Obod and Radoje Dakic to raise the guaranteed income passed unnoticed at the sessions of the Trade Union Council.

The latest data of the Statistics Administration say that in September 77,676 workers were employed in industries. According to unofficial data from the Trade Unions, about 20 thousand of them do not receive salaries at all. It should be a consolation for them that the guaranteed income which amounts to 65 per cent of the minimum labour cost will now be increased by 8 marks (from 50 to 58 marks).

But the raise of the minimum labour cost will certainly be felt by the employees of non-economic activities – 37 thousand of them. They are financed from the Government budget and their salaries mostly arrive regularly. For the sake of comparison, average Montenegrin salaries in September were – in economic activities 191 and in non-economic ones 273 marks. The highest average salaries were in the field of financial mediation – 437, and the lowest in fishing industry – 45 marks. After last week’s agreement between the Government and the Trade Unions the difference between the best and the worst paid workers in Montenegro will be even bigger.

But statistics will balance all these data. According to the data of the Statistics Administration, net income in September, in comparison with August, has gone up by 1.4 per cent, and the living expenses have gone up by 1.3 per cent, so it turns out that the salaries of the employed are higher by 0.1 per cent. In other words, the average salary is 218 marks, and the value of the consumer’s basket is 437.46 marks. How much higher the statistical increase will be once the decision on the raise of the minimum salary comes in force in January?