Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Anti-Pension Reform Referendum Signatures to Be Presented on Thursday

ZAGREB, June 11, 2019 - Union leader Krešimir Sever told Hina on Tuesday that signatures collected for a referendum petition for restoring the statutory retirement age from 67 to 65 would be submitted to the national parliament on Thursday.

The unionist said that a meeting of Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković and the initiators of the referendum campaign "67 is too much" was scheduled for Thursday and that on that occasion, the unionists would hand the collected signatures.

In order for a pension eligibility conditions referendum to be called, it is necessary to collect at least 373,568 signatures, while the unions have said that they have counted more than 700,000 signatures.

"We expect the parliament to request the checking of the validity of signatures, and we are not afraid of that as we have already erased the signatures in which we have spotted deficiencies," Sever said.

He ruled out a possibility for the renewal of the negotiations with the government on pension eligibility conditions, saying that the unions insist on the holding of the vote.

More referendum news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Government Wants to Negotiate with Unions on Pension Referendum

ZAGREB, June 6, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that the government's pension reform, which was positively assessed in a European Commission report on Wednesday, was being implemented in the interest of pensioners, so that their pensions could be higher and there was no discrimination among pensioners.

Commenting on the EC's positive assessment of the pension reform, Plenković said that it was good the public was aware of it.

"Everything we have been doing is in the interest of pensioners, so they can have higher pensions and there is no discrimination. We have strengthened the second pension pillar, and are making positive changes, not only through indexation but also by caring about the minimum pensions, and all of that should be borne in mind when analysing our policy."

He said that the EC's recommendations provided additional encouragement and were proof that the reform process the government had been conducting for three years "has been acknowledged in the context of the fact that Standard&Poor's has upgraded Croatia's rating to the investment category, with GDP growth being it is and the EC recommendations being as they are, and we should pursue our policy."

The Jutarnji List daily said on Thursday that at a meeting on Wednesday the ruling coalition agreed that negotiations should be launched with trade unions in order to avert a referendum against the pension reform for which around 700,000 signatures have been collected, but that unions are against talks.

Several participants in the ruling coalition's meeting confirmed to the daily that the purpose of negotiations would be to avert the cancellation of the entire reform and try to save at least some of its segments that are good and acceptable to all and then negotiate with unions on some of the reform elements they consider to be the most contentious.

Meanwhile, a request would be sent to the Constitutional Court to see if the question in the unions' referendum petition is in line with the constitution, the daily says.

Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević told reporters ahead of a government meeting today that the government was willing to open dialogue with trade unions on the pension reform, and when asked if one of the options was the restoration of the statutory retirement age of 65, Kuščević said that all options were open "if the entire reform is on the table."

Kuščević said that the parliament should be the one to decide whether the 700,000 signatures collected in the union campaign for a referendum on restoring the retirement age to 65 would be checked, and that the government intended to negotiate with the unions.

"We respect the unions as a social partner and want to open dialogue with them and try to find common ground because it would be a pity if the entire pension reform was scrapped," Kuščević said, expressing hope unions would accept negotiations.

Asked if one of the options was also the statutory retirement age of 65, the minister said that "all options are open if the entire reform is on the table."

He added that the purpose of negotiations with unions should be to find a mutually acceptable solution.

Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said that funds for pensions for this year and next had been secured and were not in question.

He estimated that pension indexation for the first half of the year would be similar or the same in the second half. "This year indexation is slightly higher than planned and we will probably need more funds. My estimate is that instead of 40 billion kuna we will most probably need 41 billion kuna," the minister said.

He also said that he was generally in favour of dialogue but that he could not comment in greater detail on what would happen if the union referendum against the pension reform was held.

"This is not just a matter of the pension system, or budget revenue and expenditure for one or two years, we are talking about a time horizon of 30-40 years," he warned.

More news about the pension system can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Referendum Initiative Spends 867,000 Kuna to Collect Signatures

ZAGREB, May 27, 2019 - The union-led referendum initiative "67 is too much", which has managed to collect over 600,000 signatures for a referendum petition on restoring the statutory pension age of 65, said on Monday that it had spent HRK 867,000 on its campaign and received HRK 1.3 million in donations.

Under the law, such initiatives can spend a maximum amount of 8 million kuna, however, unionists and activists have managed to spend much less, according to a report published on the website of the State Electoral Commission (DIP), which is in charge of supervising the financing of referendum initiatives, under the new law on the funding of political activities.

Thus, "67 is too much" is the first initiative to be regulated by the new legislation.

The report also gives a breakdown of donors, and the lion's share of donations came from the three trade union federations that had organised the initiative.

The maximum individual donation of 200,000 kuna was paid by the Zagreb-based Maxima company. The list of donors includes only one physical person, who made a donation of 200 kuna.

The unions also provide a breakdown of expenses and the largest portion, 199,500 kuna, went on various advertisement and promotional services.

On 12 May, the initiative "67 is too much" announced that they had gathered over 600,000 signatures for a referendum to prevent the statutory retirement age from being raised from 65 to 67.

Under the law, organisers of a referendum are required to gather the signatures of at least 373,568 voters, or 10 percent of the electorate, before formally filing a referendum petition.

More news about referendum initiatives can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Trade Unions Demand Labour Minister's Replacement

ZAGREB, May 23, 2019 - Three trade union federations on Thursday called for the replacement of Labour Minister Marko Pavić, citing the minister's campaign against their referendum campaign aimed at restoring the retirement age to 65 and the lack of transparency, and announced that they were leaving the Economic and Social Council (GSV) because the government favoured employers and the unions could not participate in social dialogue on an equal footing to the government and employers.

In a letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, the unions accused Pavić of "deluding the people and misusing budget funds in the campaign against the union initiative '67 is too much', for which around 700,000 signatures were collected to change retirement terms."

The leaders of the three trade union federations said they were leaving the GSV because the tripartite social partnership had been replaced by "direct collaboration between the government and employers."

"The government has an interlocutor in the Croatian Employers Association (HUP) and is using us only as a fig leaf," NHS trade union federation leader Krešimir Sever told a news conference.

As an example, he cited announcements that quotas for the import of foreign workers would be abolished and the law on aliens amended so that employers could import cheap foreign labour without any restriction and lower the price of labour. All of this is being done without the unions as a social partner, he said.

The head of the MHS trade union federation, Vilim Ribić, said that there would be no tripartite social dialogue if Plenković did not replace Pavić. "If Croatia wants to have social dialogue, Plenković should replace Pavić and examine the work of a number of other ministers as well," SSSH trade union federation leader Mladen Novosel said in an allusion to Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević, who has been working on a new referendum law without union representatives.

The three union leaders said that there were also "the French and the Greek model" of social dialogue, with protests and strikes, if rules of equal participation in social dialogue were not respected.

They said that such a scenario was possible if the government tried to ignore the will of citizens who have signed their petition that calls for changing retirement terms.

"There can be no negotiations on pension laws, citizens have the right to a referendum, otherwise there will be protests and strikes, and anything is possible... we believe people will know how to win their rights," said Novosel.

The national coordinator of the "67 is too much" referendum campaign, Mirela Bojić, said that the exact number of signatures collected in the referendum campaign would be known in about ten days, when the unions would submit the signature lists to the parliament with a request to call a referendum to restore the statutory retirement age to 65.

More news about trade unions can be found in the Business section.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Signatures for Referendum to Be Submitted to Parliament by End of Month

ZAGREB, May 18, 2019 - Unions that organised the "67 is too much" signature collection campaign for a referendum to restore the statutory retirement age from 67 to 65, said on Friday that they planned to submit the signatures to parliament by the end of May and added that they did not agree with a proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Predrag Štromar for conditions for a full pension to be amended without going to a referendum.

Signature lists are still coming from all counties to the initiative's head office for inspection, and only after that will the number of signatures be made public. The signatures will be submitted to the parliament most likely in the week after May 26, the initiative's national coordinator, Mirela Bojić, told Hina.

In order for a referendum on pension eligibility to be called, it is necessary to collect at least 373,568 signatures, while unofficial union sources have said that they have counted almost 700,000 signatures.

"The plan is to submit the signatures to parliament in the week after the European election and then parliament will decide on their inspection and on the assessment of the constitutionality of the referendum questions," Bojić said.

She added that the initiative resolutely rejects Štromar's proposal that the referendum be abandoned for the sake of saving money and that an agreement be reached with the unions regarding their demands.

"As far as we are concerned, we will not back down. The government had plenty of time. We literally begged for them to sit down at the table so that we don't have to collect signatures. However, now that we've collected this many signatures, we have an enormous responsibility toward citizens and insist that a referendum be held and the will of citizens respected," said Bojić.

She believes that the referendum questions should pass the test at the Constitutional Court even though "anything is possible in Croatia".

"With regard to the way we formulated the questions, which constitutional experts from all sides are talking about these days, I am convinced that the Constitutional Court has almost no manoeuvring room, unless that is an opportunistic political decision which, unfortunately we have been accustomed to recently," she added.

The initiative expects the referendum to be called for early September.

More news about the retirement age referendum can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Referendum Initiative Claims It Has Gathered over 600,000 Signatures

ZAGREB, May 12, 2019 - The unions-led referendum initiative "67 is too much" announced in Zagreb's main square at midnight on Saturday that they had gathered over 600,000 signatures for a referendum to prevent the statutory retirement age from being raised from 65 to 67.

Under the law, organisers of a referendum are required to gather the signatures of at least 373,568 voters, or 10 percent of the electorate, before formally filing a referendum petition.

The initiative's national coordinator Mirela Bojić told a press conference that the signatures would be submitted to parliament within two weeks, after the signature sheets were thoroughly checked.

The leader of the Federation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH), Mladen Novosel, said they expected the referendum to be held in early September.

More news about the possible referendum can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Labour Minister Accuses Unions of Conspiring with Opposition

ZAGREB, May 8, 2019 - Labour Minister Marko Pavić said on Wednesday that he would not step down despite the unions' demand to that effect, accusing the unions of conspiring with the opposition ahead of European elections in order to weaken the government's influence.

The leaders of three trade union federations on Tuesday demanded Pavić's resignation, saying that the minister had deceived the public about the amount of taxpayers' money spent on a campaign against the unions' referendum initiative "67 is too much".

The three unions - SSSH, NHS and MHS - are collecting signatures until May 11 for their petition for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67.

"I will not resign, the unions are quite nervous but the government knows what it is doing, it is informing citizens responsibly," Pavić said in an interview with Croatian Radio.

He said that in the course of the day his ministry would forward to the Constitutional Court a report on the financing of videos on the comprehensive pension reform, adding that it was evident from Constitutional Court President Miroslav Šeparović's statements that it was legitimate for the government to conduct an informative campaign simultaneously with the union-led signature-collection drive so that it could warn citizens of the consequences of union proposals.

The minister added that there was no other way for the ministry to finance the informative campaign but with public money.

Pavić also accused the unions of having conspired with the opposition ahead of EU elections. "We have been saying that the statutory retirement age of 67 was not introduced by the current government but by the SDP government. That's why I'm surprised at the opposition's support for the union initiative. I understand the unions' nervousness as their having become a participant in EU elections. I believe that people understand that the union initiative is politically motivated... and that the unions are not credible. This is not about the pension reform, this is an attempt to weaken the government's influence ahead of EU elections," Pavić said.

More news about the referendum campaign can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Unions Advise Uljanik Workers How to Delay Freezing of Bank Accounts

ZAGREB, May 7, 2019 - The head of the Adriatic union, Boris Cerovac, on Monday told a press conference in Pula that workers at the Uljanik and 3. Maj docks whose accounts have been blocked and are not able to pay their bills can ask for a six-month moratorium on distress orders.

He informed that it is possible to delay the freezing of their accounts in line with an agreement reached between the Croatian association of payment agencies and the Blokirani civil society organisation representing citizens with blocked accounts and the union.

That will prevent a landslide of distress orders and blocked accounts, the president of the Blokirani NGO, Miriam Kervatin said, adding that if that were to occur not only would the lives of thousands of families be destroyed but "Pula and Istria would be smothered."

"The moratorium relates to all distress order that banks, teleoperators, credit card operators transferred to the payment agency," Kervatin explained.

Cerovac informed reporters of the situation at the Uljanik dock and that the IT sector was in receivership as of Thursday and all its workers were dismissed which will take effect after 30 days. "It is up to each worker to decide what they will do but as there is no bankruptcy fund, it would be wiser to register with the employment agency than to work those 30 days," he said.

He added that there is no one at the dock working in the payments section. In the personnel section, which is trying to resolve the issue of dismissal notices and other records there are no work safety measures, there is no IT and, as he said, "we are trying to come to an agreement with security guards so that at least there are some workers at the entrance to prevent the entry of unwanted persons or of material leaving the dock."

"The situation is alarming. If the Chinese are a serious partner, they will need time to find a solution yet workers have no more time. They are waiting for bankruptcy to be launched so they can at least achieve their minimum rights," Cerovac said, adding that he's afraid Uljanik is slowly being phased out.

More news about Uljanik can be found in the Business section.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Trade Unions Disappointed with Number of Referendum Signatures

ZAGREB, May 6, 2019 - The "67 is too much" referendum initiative on Monday expressed concern because according to data processed so far, the initiative has collected 247,835 signatures over the past nine days, yet it requires more than 373,000 signatures and has only five more days to collect them.

Unions have organised the campaign for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67 and in order for the referendum to be called the initiative is required to collect at least 373,568 signatures. On Monday it was lacking at least 125,733 signatures.

"We are concerned that we won't succeed," president of the Matica union federation, Vilim Ribić, told a press conference.

Three union federations – NHS, SSSH, and Matica (Association of Croatian Trade Unions) – launched the "67 is too much" campaign to call the referendum to bring back the full retirement age to 65 as it was prior to the pension reform. The initiative has until May 11 to collect the required number of signatures.

More news about referendums in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Is Government Leading Campaign against Union Referendum Initiative?

ZAGREB, May 2, 2019 - The GONG nongovernmental election monitoring organisation on Thursday called on the government to inform the public of the cost of its advertising campaign against trade unions' initiative to collect signatures for a referendum petition against raising the state pension age.

The government is intimidating the general public with its estimates that the demands of the union campaign "67 is too much" will cost 45 billion kuna of budget money yet is using public money non-transparently in its counter-campaign, GONG says.

GONG welcomes the government's having imposed stricter transparency rules on all referendum campaigns, including the union campaign, but considers it problematic that the government has not made public the cost of its counter-campaign.

GONG insists that the issue of financing referendums should be regulated as part of a new law on referendums and recalls that Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević has set up a task force to draw up the new law, which has not held any meeting yet.

Labour and Pension System Minister Marko Pavić on Thursday dismissed accusations that his ministry's media campaign, which has coincided with an ongoing union campaign for a referendum against the statutory retirement age of 67, is directed against the referendum initiative, saying that the ministry campaign is part of continuous efforts to inform citizens.

"This is not an anti-referendum campaign; it is an ongoing campaign designed to inform citizens about the comprehensive pension reform. We did not use external agencies for the campaign, we paid 18,000 kuna plus VAT for the video and we will publish the cost of the campaign after it is completed," Pavić told a news conference.

As for a calculation showing that a possible success of the union referendum campaign would cost the budget 45 billion kuna, Pavić said the calculation had been made by a team of experts. Even though it may seem high, it is realistic given the large number of pensioners, he said.

Pavić went on to say that trade unions and opposition parties used events commemorating International Workers' Day on Wednesday to manipulate citizens. He also dismissed media claims that the rate of youth employment in Croatia had dropped and that the government's active employment policy measures were not yielding results.

In the first two years of its term, the government invested 4.5 billion kuna in employment measures, and from March 2016 to March 2019, 96,058 jobs were created, he said, adding that in 2018, 38,287 more jobs had been created than the year before.

"The youth employment rate for the 15-29 age group has grown by 2.6%. According to the Croatian Pension Insurance Institute, the number of employed young persons has grown from 261,000 to 267,500, and the rate of employed persons, depending on the statistics, has increased between 2.45% and 2.6%," said Pavić.

More news about the referendum campaign can be found in the Politics section.

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