A collective labour dispute is a disagreement between an employer (or an association or a federation of employers) and employees (or an association or a federation of employees, i.e. trade union or federation of trade unions) which arises upon the entry into or the performance of collective agreements or the establishment of new working conditions. Therefore, a collective labour dispute can arise either from interests (concluding a collective agreement and establishing new working conditions) or rights (implementing a collective agreement and interpreting its terms). In other words, a conflict of interest arises in matters not covered by the current collective agreement that are aimed at establishing new working conditions, while a conflict of law means a dispute over the exercise and interpretation of rights under an existing collective agreement or legislation.
The procedure for resolving collective labour disputes is prescribed by the Collective Labour Dispute Resolution Act and the statutes of the Public Conciliator.
Parties to a collective labour dispute
There are always clearly defined parties to a collective labour dispute – on the one hand, the employer or an association or a federation of employers, and, on the other, the employees or an association or a federation of employees. Both parties to the labour dispute shall be represented by the person authorised thereby – the employees’ representative or representatives and the employer’s representative or representatives. Pursuant to the Employees’ Trustee Act, an employees’ representative represents employees in the resolution of a collective labour dispute if there is no trade union at the employer or no employees belonging to the trade union are employed with the employer; If a trade union exists with the employer or there are employees who are members of a trade union, the employees are represented by their representative.
Outbreak and notice of labour dispute
Preventing the outbreak of a labour dispute should be one of the top priorities for both the employer and the employee. In particular, it should be made clear through negotiations what the parties want and whether they understand each other’s wishes in the same way to avoid unfortunate situations where a dispute arises from a misunderstanding. The first means of preventing a collective labour dispute are consultations between the parties and negotiations that respect the other party and are conducted in good faith. Requests and proposals of the parties, such as a draft of a collective agreement or proposals to amend working conditions prepared by one party are always submitted to the other party in writing. The parties undertake to review the submitted proposals within seven calendar days, and notify the party that submitted the proposal of their decision in writing immediately on the day following the decision. If the parties reach an agreement on the draft collective agreement or its amendments, a collective agreement will be concluded soon. If not, a collective labour dispute will arise that needs to be resolved.
The parties shall consult the Public Conciliator in writing if an agreement is not reached through negotiations and a threat of a disruption of work arises.
A Public Conciliator is an unbiased expert appointed by the Government of the Republic based on a joint agreement of the Ministry of Social Affairs and central federations of employers and employees who helps to conciliate the parties to the dispute and find suitable solutions. The Public Conciliator shall appoint a local conciliator to resolve the labour dispute by coordinating it with the local self-government in advance or will resolve it themselves. The conciliator has the right to invite the parties to participate in conciliation proceedings.
Conciliation of the parties
The parties to a collective labour dispute may also turn directly to a federation of employers and federation of employees (trade union) to resolve the dispute. Within three days of receipt of the application the latter shall form a commission to settle the dispute. An agreement between them on the settlement of the dispute is binding on the parties to the dispute.
If the parties to the dispute do not turn to a federation of employers and federation of employees for conciliation, the parties shall be reconciled by a conciliator, who is usually the Public Conciliator. The dispute can be conciliated through the conciliator or based on a proposal of the conciliator to which the parties shall respond within three days. Parties are required to participate in conciliation proceedings, send their fully authorised representatives to participate in conciliation proceedings and submit relevant documents by the date specified. Conciliation is documented by a report, which shall be signed by the representatives of the parties and the Public Conciliator. A report shall also be prepared if no agreement is reached.
The right of employees or associations or federations of employees to organise a strike and the right of employers or associations or federations of employers to lock out employees to resolve a labour dispute arises only if there is no prohibition against disruption of work in force, if conciliation procedures have been conducted but no conciliation has been achieved or if an agreement is not complied with. In the case of a strike or a lock-out, the parties are required to resume negotiations in order to reach an agreement in the collective labour dispute.
Advance notice, postponement or suspension of strike or lock-out
A strike is an interruption of work on the initiative of employees or an association or a federation of employees in order to achieve the objectives set in the course of collective negotiations. A decision to organise a strike is made by the general meeting of employees or an association or a federation of employees. Participation in a strike is voluntary. It is prohibited to impede the performance of work by employees who do not participate in a strike.
A lock-out is an interruption of work on the initiative of an employer or an association or a federation of employers in order to achieve the objectives set in the course of collective negotiations. A decision to organise a lock-out is made by an employer.
Organisers of a strike or a lock-out are required to notify the other party, the Public Conciliator and the local government of a planned strike or lock-out in writing at least two weeks in advance. The notice shall set out the reasons, exact time of commencement and possible scope of the strike or lock-out.
A strike is directed by a person or persons (strike leader) authorised by the general meeting of employees or the association or federation of employees which makes the decision to organise a strike. A strike leader is required to apply measures to preserve the assets of the other party and to maintain the rule of law and public order, and is liable for violations of law and damage caused by a strike. A lock-out is directed pursuant to the procedure determined by the employer.
The commencement of a strike or a lock-out may be postponed once: by one month by the Government of the Republic on the proposal of the Public Conciliator, or by two weeks by the city or rural municipality government on the proposal of the Public Conciliator. The Government of the Republic has the right to suspend a strike or a lock-out in the case of a natural disaster or catastrophe, in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease or in a state of emergency.
Pursuant to the Civil Service Act, an official is not allowed to strike or to participate in other collective pressure actions which interfere with the performance of functions of an authority that has recruited the official or of other authority arising from the law. The pressure action is collective if at least half of the officials of the authority participate therein.
Unlawful strikes and lock-outs
Strikes or lock-outs which are not preceded by negotiations and conciliation proceedings and strikes or lock-outs for the purpose of affecting the activities of courts are unlawful. Strikes or lock-outs which are called or organised in violation of the procedure established in legislation are unlawful. A decision to declare a strike or a lock-out unlawful is made by the court.
Warning and sympathy strikes
Employees and their associations or federations have the right to organise warning strikes with a duration of up to one hour.
Sympathy strikes are permitted in support of employees engaging in a strike. A sympathy strike shall not last longer than three days.
The representative, an association or a federation of employees is required to notify the employer, association or federation of employers and the local government of a planned sympathy strike in writing at least five days in advance.
Disruption of work shall be avoided in participation in a warning and sympathy strike. Since in general the prohibition against disruption of work only applies to the provisions of a collective agreement, the obligation to avoid disruption of work does not apply to a sympathy strike where there is no substantive dispute between the supporters of a labour dispute and the employer. For warning strikes, it shall be evaluated whether the demands go against the collective agreement that prohibits against disruption of work.
However, the prohibition against disruption of work should be observed in situations where the so-called absolute obligation to avoid disruption of work has been agreed upon in the collective agreement, i.e., the prohibition against disruption of work applies in any case.