Central Trade Union Organization, Union Structure and its Functions, Tripartite Forums, Strengthening of Trade Unions, Employee Relations, MS-24

Which are the central trade union organization recognized by the central government for the purpose of tripartite forums. Describe the trade union structure and its functions with respect to your organization or any organization you are familiar with. Suggest measures for further strengthening of trade unions. Briefly describe the organization you are referring to.

With changes in the political, economic and social situation the nature of labour relations has also changed. Employers and workers and their organizations have been granted greater possibilities of collective bargaining. Tripartite cooperation is being strengthened in Lithuania and the principle of tripartism was accepted in 1994 when the Seimas ratified the relevant Conventions of the ILO.

In democratic societies social dialogue is executed at bilateral and trilateral levels. As already mentioned, bilateral partnerships in Lithuania used to be implemented through collective bargaining, and collective agreements were concluded at company level. The main obstacle to social partnership at a higher level was the fact that for a long time there were no employers' organizations, or they were very small. In addition Lithuania lacked a stable centralized negotiation mechanism, as well as a sound legal basis for collective bargaining. In addition, the social partners lacked knowledge and experience.

As a result it was not until 1995 that the first tripartite agreement was concluded between the Government, trade unions and employers. The agreement was signed by representatives of four national trade union centres: the Lithuanian Trade Union Centre (LPSC), the Lithuanian Trade Union Federation (LPSS), the Lithuanian Labour Union (LDS) and the Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF). It was also signed by representatives of the most influential employers' organizations: the Lithuanian Industry Confederation (LPK) and the Lithuanian Business Confederation (LVK). On behalf of the Government, the agreement was signed by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania.

This agreement is a short document more like a declaration, stating that it has been agreed to solve social, economic and labour problems on a tripartite basis, to cooperate in implementing social, economic and labour policy, to establish a Tripartite Council and to sign an agreement every year.
Many observers are sceptical about the impact of the new Tripartite Council. Decisions taken by the constituents are rarely reflected in legislation adopted by the Seimas or administrative decisions implemented by Government. There is an impression that the Government seeks political credit for playing the game of consultation but is not prepared to allow other parties any real influence over the decision-making process.

Between 1995 and 1998 the Tripartite Council met 24 times and discussed 170 issues. The topics most frequently on the agenda were:
amendments to the Law on State Social Insurance;
the establishment of a non-governmental pension fund;
the consequences of illegal employment;
the laws on bankruptcy, employment contract and labour payment.

On many occasions employers at the Tripartite Council tried to influence government decisions on the minimum wage. However, until 1999 suggestions from the social partners did not have a significant influence on government policy.

Trade unions and employers have submitted proposals for a new Law on General Agreements and Collective Agreements, aiming to establish salary levels and terms, especially the minimum wage.
The European Commission has positively influenced the work of the Tripartite Council, indicating shortcomings in the level of social dialogue and the influence of tripartite institutions in the labour market in its conclusions concerning Lithuania's readiness for joining the EU. This forced the Government to pay serious attention to union and employer suggestions and to allow the Tripartite Council a decisive vote on certain issues.

On 11 February 1999 a new general tripartite collaboration agreement was concluded. This agreement was signed by the Prime Minister, chairpersons of the trade union national centres, and the presidents of three employers' organizations. The group was supplemented by one more business confederation.

The parties agreed on:

• exchanging information on labour, social and economic issues, holding consultations, preparing and coordinating draft legislation, and discussing the most serious problems at the Tripartite Council;
• respecting the terms of tripartite agreements in their activities and accepting the decisions of the Tripartite Council.
The parties' obligations were laid down in the agreement. The Government undertook responsibility to:
• inform the social partners about draft legislation on social and economic issues and submit draft laws for discussion at the Tripartite Council;
• inform the Seimas of the conclusions of the Tripartite Council;
• ensure that decisions on serious labour, social and economic issues are adopted after the Tripartite Council discussions.

Having signed this agreement trade unions and employers' organizations
undertook not to initiate disputes or other actions on the understanding that government will respect its obligations.

This agreement also provided that:

•     an annual tripartite agreement on the minimum hourly wage (monthly salary), on income tax and on other serious social and economic issues should be signed;
•     the structure of tripartite cooperation should be developed; a committee should be established at the Tripartite Council and that tripartite bodies in the provinces and municipalities should be expanded to increase the effectiveness of their activities;
•     the social partners should collaborate in preparation for EU membership, hold consultations and exchange information concerning their representation in international organizations;
•     trade unions and employers' organizations should work together in concluding collective agreements and contracts;
•     consultation should be strengthened and joint training activities should be promoted. The Government has undertaken to publish tripartite agreements in the official journal called "The State News".
During the last two years, cooperation between trade unions and employers has become more active. Some amendments to draft laws, such as the Law on Labour Disputes, the Law on Collective Agreements, and the Law on Extra Payment for Hazardous Conditions were put forward by the joint employer/union Task Force.

The unions are constantly looking for ways to obtain information at company and national level. One possibility might be to establish cooperation committees which would collect information about the company's economic situation and short-term plans, orders implemented and the market situation, future changes, reorganization and reductions in the workforce. The role of cooperation committees would be to discuss, to influence labour relations and to inform employees of planned changes. Although employers' organizations did not support the above suggestion, positive changes have been achieved in the sphere of information.

At present the Government is amending the Law on Support of the Unemployed, granting unions the right to be informed of lay-offs beforehand and to consult with employers on protecting workers. Employers will have to inform trade unions or employees (in the absence of unions) of planned collective dismissals two months in advance. Labour exchanges and local government offices will also have to be informed in advance.

Tripartite bodies
The National Tripartite Council is composed of 15 members, five representatives of each partner. Government is represented by the Ministers of Social Security and Labour, Finance, Industry, Agriculture, and Justice. The Council analyses and makes suggestions on social, economic and labour issues. The chair is appointed for a four-month period and rotates among members of the Council.
In addition to the National Council there are a number of other tripartite bodies functioning at national level.

In 1991 the State Social Insurance Fund Council was established. It consists of 15 members (five representatives each of trade unions, employers and the state). All social insurance matters are within the competence of the Council, which is the longest serving tripartite institution and has decision-making power.

A Tripartite Committee of the Labour Exchange of the Republic was established in 1991, as well as Tripartite Committees for local labour exchanges in the cities and regions.

The social partners were not active on the Tripartite Committees for local labour exchanges during the early years because employers and trade union representatives were not ready for the role, as they lacked competence and knowledge. Activity was low and there was submissive approval of projects prepared by local labour exchanges. However, these Committees have made good progress in the last few years due to special training courses for representatives. The Government is making promising efforts to develop these activities, based on the experience of EU countries in solving employment and social problems on a tripartite basis.

In 1996 the Citizens Employment Council was formed at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. The Council is the Employment Fund's management board, operating on a tripartite basis.
In 1995 an Expert Council was established at the Lithuanian Labour Market Training Service. This is a tripartite advisory and supervisory institution. Its task is to support the development of a labour market vocational training and consulting system, to improve its functioning and relations with labour market partners.

The Lithuanian Occupational Safety Committee was established in 1994. It consists of 15 members (five representatives each of employers, workers and Government).

In 1997 the Compulsory Health Insurance Fund Council was established. Two-thirds of the members represent the health system and there are also two trade union representatives.

In 1995 a permanent commission was established for tripartite consultation on labour standards implementation.

In 1997 the Council of the Fund to Fulfil Employees' Claims Related to Labour Relations of Bankrupt Enterprises and Enterprises under Bankruptcy was established.
The development of industrial relations and local trade unions
At present there are more than 100 laws regulating labour relations. As most issues are regulated by law the social partners at enterprise level have little freedom of action. The rights of the unions and employers in the formation of industrial relations are defined by the Law on Trade Unions, Law on Collective Agreements and Law on Collective Disputes. The Constitution provides that trade unions in Lithuania may be created freely and act independently. Their purpose is to protect employees' rights and interests in labour, economic and social matters.

The right to trade union membership is promoted for all workers who are not younger than 14 years of age and who are employed under a labour contract or on any other basis. The employer and the employer's attorney are not allowed to join trade union organizations at enterprise level.
Trade unions may be established on an occupational, enterprise, industry or regional level, or any other level defined by the trade union itself. Most unions are organized on an industry basis, and include all workers in an industry regardless of qualifications or position. A trade union may be established in any enterprise, institution or organization by not less than 30 employees or one-fifth of the workforce, whichever is less. (However, there is a minimum requirement of three employees to form a union). A trade union is considered to be established when employees hold a constituent meeting, adopt statutes and elect representatives and a chairperson.

Unions must act in accordance with their statutes. They have a general duty to monitor management compliance with labour laws, health and safety issues, and agreed terms of payment. Employers must grant unions the necessary facilities and provide them with the information they need to carry on their functions.
Unions have the right to demand that the employer reverse decisions which are in breach of the economic and social rights of union members. If an employer fails to reverse a decision within ten days of the union demand, the union may take the issue to court.