Last year the strongest and most-organized umbrella organization for unions, the Federation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (Savez samostalnih sindikata Hrvatske, SSSH) organized its very first e-protest in Croatia, titled “A thank you is fine, but workers’ rights come first!” (Radnicima hvala ali prvo prava!) The demands of the SSSH formulated in 2020 were linked with the Covid-19 situation. They included the supervision of support schemes for job protection, the strengthening of public health, higher taxes for the rich, and the strengthening and implementing of the European pillar of social rights.
Many activities occurred in the weeks before the e-protest, in which representative trade unions participated in a series of negotiations with the government and the employers’ organisation. These trade unions advocated for workers’ rights, promoting job-saving measures and preventing the relaxation of established worker rights. Trade-union federations succeeded in preventing the suspension of workers’ rights based on the Labour Code. More specifically, during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government prepared a Law on Employment Relations in the circumstances of the Covid-19 epidemic that sought to suspend workers’ rights. The government withdrew the criticised law just two days later because of an initiative by the SSSH and NHS, as well as a swift reaction from international trade-union organisations (ETUC, ITUC).
In this sense, the e-protest was a sort of celebration of all the achievements that the SSSH and united trade unions achieved during the first wave of the pandemic. These achievements included preventing the enactment of harmful laws and measures, and preventing a decrease in rights that are based on law or collective agreements.
This year, three trade-union federations, SSSH, NHS, and MHS, organised a protest performance at Zagreb’s main railway station, titled Last Train for a Better Normal and with this, in the spirit of public gatherings being prohibited, they marked and celebrated International Labour Day with a performative action.
This performance warned against the unsustainability of the present economic and social model, which the Covid-19 crisis has foregrounded acutely. The performance’s message was that the recovery from the crisis cannot mean a return to the “old normal”, or to a “new normal” of precarious jobs. It was rather an opportunity to create a “better normal”, consisting of “higher quality jobs, and social justice including job security and higher wages”. Demands were linked to the SSSH’s concept of work fit for people, which follows from the six indicators of a good job – a sufficiently high wage, job security, health protection, working time, learning and career development, as well as having a voice in the workplace.
Trade unions have protested less in public spaces over the last two years, but they have been very active in advocating and fighting for workers’ rights. Thus, most actions moved from the street to digital platforms or negotiations to protect jobs, decrease working hours and protect workers’ rights. They also prepared the ground for collective bargaining with the state and employer representatives. During the crisis, the Croatian government started preparing amendments to the Croatian Labor Code, which triggered constant alertness, attention and action on the part of trade unions.
Nediljka Junaković is an Education and Youth Officer in The Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC) since 2015. Her background is teaching; for years she has been involved in non-formal education and training. In UATUC she organizes union learning and works with young trade union activists (www.educa.sssh.hr). She also leads the podcast Work Fit for the People. Contact: email@example.com.