Collective rights

My Labour,
My Rights

Collective rights

Organizing in trade unions

A trade union is an autonomous, democratic and independent organization of workers they willingly join for representation, presentation, promotion and protection of their economic, social and other specific and collective interests.

According to the Law on Labour Relations (LLR), workers are entitled, upon their own choice, to establish trade unions without any prior approval, and to become members thereof under conditions defined in its statutes or rules.

  • A trade union ceases to act if so decided by the union bodies authorized according to the union statutes to decide upon termination of activities.  
  • Workers decide freely to join and leave the trade unions.
  • No one may be placed into a less favourable position because of membership or non-membership into a trade union, or participation or non-participation in its activities. 
  • Trade unions may not be dissolved and their activities may not be terminated by administrative means if they have been established and have acted in accordance with the law.
  • Activities of unions and their representatives may not be limited by an act of the employers if they are in line with the law and collective agreements.
  • Trade unions may establish their own alliances or other types of associations to link their interests on higher level.
  • Trade unions are entitled to free assembly and cooperation with international organizations established to exert their rights and interests.
  • Trade union members may require judiciary protection in case of violation of their rights established in the statutes or in other rules of unions.
  • Trade unions may demand judicial ban for activities in contravention of the workers’ right to freedom of association.
  • Trade unions and their associations at higher level may claim damages due to activities in contravention of the workers’ right to freedom of association. 
  • Workers may not be placed into a less favourable position compared to other workers because of union membership, and the following is strictly prohibited: 
    • Concluding employment contracts with workers provided they do not join any trade unions, or provided they leave the trade union they are members of;
    • Terminating employment contracts or otherwise placing workers into a less favourable position in comparison to other workers because of membership in trade unions, or participation into union activities after working hours, or even during working hours if consented by the employers;
    • Grounding the decisions of employers for employment contracts, changes in working assignments or job positions, vocational education, promotion, payment, social contributions and employment termination, on union membership and participation in union activities;
    • Using coercion by employers, managers or other bodies and employers’ representatives against any trade union.

Trade union representatives

  • Trade unions freely decide how they are to be represented at the employers.
  • Trade unions having members employed at a given employer may appoint or select one or more union representatives to represent them at the given employer.
  • Trade union representatives are entitled to protect and promote their members’ rights and interests at the employers. 
  • Employers are obligated to assign premises to and provide conditions for activities of the largest representative trade unions.
  • Employers are obligated to ensure trade unions and their representatives successfully and timely protect the rights and interests of their members and have access to data relevant thereof.
  • Trade union representatives are obligated to protect and promote the rights and interests of their members in the time and within the procedures in accordance with collective agreements.  
  • Trade unions are obligated to inform employers about the appointment of union representatives.

Why should workers join together in unions?

Exercising their economic and social rights, citizens are entitled to establish trade unions and become members thereof by their own choice.

A single worker is not powerful enough to bargain for greater rights. Only few workers are informed about their employment rights, making this the major reason for lack of knowledge in workers in demanding their rights derived from employment or in protecting themselves. Hence the need for them to join together in trade unions. Workers who are union members have the possibility to get all necessary information from the union services and to enjoy appropriate protection of their employment rights.   

Trade unions provide its members with free legal aid and advice for exerting their employment rights, as well as with training and education in terms of strengthening their capacities and raising their awareness.

Trade unions demand that all workers be provided with decent work, registered as employees, regularly paid their salaries, including overtime and night-work pay, allowed to fully use their annual leave according to law, and paid their insurance contributions to salaries.

Trade unions are the only entity committed to respecting human rights and freedoms, rule of law, democracy and free markets, and are constantly fighting against workers’ rights violations.

Trade unions also fight for respecting the personal integrity of any worker, as well as against labour exploitation, unreported employment, corruption, discrimination and mobbing of workers.  
Only by joining together in unions workers can bargain collectively for regulating employment terms, work, and other employment rights, as well as the right to strike and undertake all forms of union actions.

Levels of collective bargaining and types of collective agreements

Collective bargaining in the Republic of North Macedonia is done on three levels – national level, for General Collective Agreement; branch level – for Specific Collective Agreement; and level of employer, for Specific Agreement at the level of employer.

General collective agreement

A general collective agreement is separately signed for both the private and the public sectors. 

The General Collective Agreement is directly applied and it is binding for all employers and employees both in the private and the public sector.  There are two general collective agreements – General Collective Agreement for the private sector signed between the Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM)  and the Organization of Employers of Macedonia (ORM), and General Collective Agreement signed by the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Macedonia (KSS) and the Government of the Republic of Macedonia. 

Specific collective agreement

Specific collective agreements (collective agreements at branch (economic activity) level are not directly applied and they are not binding for all employers and employees in the private and the public sectors. The Specific collective agreements refer to members of associations (trade unions and employers’ associations) that have signed a collective agreement, and to individuals who entered the agreement later, or became members of the associations that are party to the collective agreement.

In the Republic of North Macedonia there are currently 20 specific collective agreements. Most of them are for the private sector, signed by branch trade unions of SSM and employers’ associations within ORM. The specific collective agreements are the Collective Agreement of the Textile Industry in Macedonia (signed by the Trade union of workers in the textile, leather and shoe industry in Macedonia and the Association of Textile Industry of Macedonia); Collective Agreement of the employees in the tobacco sector (signed by the AGRO-union and the Association of the Tobacco Sector); Collective Agreement for the chemical industry (signed by the Trade union of workers in chemical, Metal and non-metal industry – SHNM, and the Association of Chemical Industry) and other specific collective agreements for the private sector. Specific collective agreements have been signed for the public sector as well. Some parties of the specific collective agreements  are branch trade unions of SSM including the Collective Agreement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (signed by the Macedonian Police Union (MPS) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs); Collective Agreement for the Health Sector in Macedonia (signed between the Independent Union for Health, Pharmacy and Social Protection and the Ministry of Health) and other specific collective agreements of branch trade unions of SSM. Specific collective agreements for the public sector have also been signed by branch unions of -KSS, including the Collective Agreement for primary education (signed between the Union for Education, Science and Culture (SONK) and the Ministry of Education); Collective Agreement for secondary education (signed between the Union for Education, Science and Culture (SONK) and  the Ministry of Education), and other specific agreements.

Specific collective agreement at level of employer

Specific collective agreements at level of employer are applicable to all employees, regardless of whether they are members of a union, or of the trade union that is a party to the collective agreement.

Parties to collective bargaining

According to Law on Labour Relations, collective agreements are signed between the employer or a representative association of employers, and a representative trade union. Representation of social partners in the Republic of North Macedonia is defined at several levels. It can be defined nationally, due to participation in tripartite bodies for social partnership and tripartite delegations of social partners; for the public sector, due to participation in collective bargaining at public sector level; for the private sector, due to participation in collective bargaining at private sector level; for a branch or section –  due to participation in collective bargaining at branch i.e. section level and for the employer, due to participation in collective bargaining at the level of the employer.

Subject to collective bargaining

The collective agreement regulates rights and obligations of the parties thereof, and it may also contain legal stipulations regulating the conclusion, contents and termination of employment and other related issues. In general, all labour aspects may be regulated by a collective agreement (establishing employment, employment rights and obligations – terms and conditions, termination of employment). Most often terms and conditions (salaries and other remuneration, hours of work, annual leave, leave from work and similar) are subject to bargaining. 

Relation of collective agreements and other legal sources

In the ‘hierarchy scale’ of labour law sources, lower sources may not be in contradiction to higher sources. They may define more and larger rights for workers, but not fewer and lesser rights workers are already entitled to by virtue of the immediately higher legal source. The same relation should be established between different types of collective agreements, including collective agreements and (individual) employment contract establishing employment of individual workers.

In case certain rights regulated by a lower source (e.g. employment contract or collective agreement) are lesser or contradictory to identical rights regulated by a higher source (e.g. higher collective agreement or legislation), such rights are null and void, and are replaced by application of the rights prescribed in the immediately higher legal source.

The right to strike is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia. According to the Constitution, requirements for exercising the right to strike may be limited by law in accordance with the Constitution, for the armed forces, the police and the state administration.

The main legal source regulating the right to strike is the Law on Labour Relations. In addition to LLR, exercising the right to strike is also regulated with other specific laws (Law on Amicable Settlement of Labour Disputes, Law on Employees in the Public Sector, Law on Institutions, Law on Public Enterprises, Law on Healthcare, Law on Primary Education, Law on Secondary Education and other legislation), as well as with collective agreements. 

Entities in a strike

Entities in a strike may be active and passive. An active entity is the party organizing and starting a strike. According to the Law on Labour Relations, the trade union and its associations on high level are entitled to call a strike. A strike organized and started by a group of workers unrelated to the union shall be considered unlawful. A passive entity is the party against which the strike is organized, including the employer, or the employers’ association at high level. A strike may not always be against the primary employer (employer where reasons for а strike occurred), but also against a secondary employer (employer where strike was called in support of the primary strike). In this case the strike is а solidarity action. Anyhow, a strike must be announced in writing to the employer, i.e. to the employers’ association against which the strike is called, and the solidarity action must be announced at the employer where the action is organized.

Reasons (legal grounds) for organizing strike

A strike is one of the mechanisms for resolution of collective labour disputes. A collective labour dispute occurs between the union (or its associations at high level) and the employer (or its associations at high level) in relation to concluding, modifying and amending collective agreements (collective labour dispute regarding interests), or in relation to interpretation and application of collective agreements (collective labour dispute regarding law). The right to strike in RNM is applicable both in cases of collective labour disputes regarding interests, as well as in cases of collective labour disputes regarding law.   

Requirements and procedure for organizing strikes

There are several prerequisites to workers starting a strike including written announcement of the strike, the Rules regarding operations that may not be interrupted during the strike, and the settlement procedure. All aforementioned actions point out that the right to strike is the last resort to be used following failure of the parties to resolve disputed issues.

The Law on Labour Relations does not regulate the initial part of the strike organizing procedure including a decision to start a strike and the way trade union members express their opinion of the strike. Such issues are regulated by internal acts (Rules on Strike) of the trade union, but they do not affect legality, i.e. illegality of the strike.

Written announcement about strikes

Strikes are announced in writing to the employer, i.e. the employers’ association against which a strike is called, and the solidarity actions are announced at the employer where an action is organized. A written announcement is obligatory for the trade union, and failure to present it results the strike being unlawful. Essential elements to be contained in any letter of strike announcement are the reasons thereof, the location it will take place at, and the day and time of its start.

Rules regarding operations that may not be interrupted during a strike

In the period when a strike is taking place, minimum required production and essential services may not be interrupted. Minimum required production is work undertaken by workers during a strike in order to allow for resumption of work following the end of a strike. Essential services are work assignments necessary to be undertaken in order to prevent threats to life, personal security or health of citizens. The Rules regarding operations that may not be interrupted during a strike define provisions for work assignments and the number of workers who must undertake them during a strike. According to the LLR, these Rules are adopted upon a proposal of the employer, in agreement with the union. If the union and the employer fail to reach an agreement about the Rules within 15 days from the day the employer presented the proposal to the union, the employer and the union may ask for a resolution by way of arbitration in the following 15 day period.

Settlement procedure

Initiating a settlement procedure prior to calling a strike is a legally binding obligation to both parties in a collective labour agreement. According to LLR, a strike may not be called prior to completion of a settlement procedure. The obligation for settlement may not limit the right to strike in cases where such a procedure is imposed by this law, i.e. prior to initiating another procedure for amicable settlement of a dispute agreed by the parties.

In the case of strike or dispute in activities of general interest or activities where interruption of work may threaten the lives and health of people or cause large scale damage, parties to a dispute are obligated at once to amicable resolve the collective dispute. The procedure for amicable settlement of a collective dispute should be completed in ten days from the adoption of the proposal to amicably resolve the dispute.

 

Responsibility for organizing or participating in unlawful strikes

The Law on Labour Relations defines that organizing and participating in strikes in accordance with provisions of this law and of the collective agreement, is not violation of the employment contract. However, organizing and participating in strikes that have been called against the law (unlawful strike), results in the organizer (the union), as well as the participants (workers) be held responsible thereof.

In cases of unlawful strikes, the employer or the employers’ association may ask a competent court to ban the organizing and holding of such strikes. At the same time, the employer may claim damages caused by a strike that has not been organized in accordance with the law. A decision to ban a strike is passed by a competent court for labour disputes in the first instance, in an urgent procedure. Organizing or participation in unlawful strikes may also imply termination of the employment contract of a worker, i.e. termination of their employment. If during a strike, a worker committed additional gross negligence in violation of the employment contract, they may be fired in accordance with the LLR.

Rights of workers during strikes

In the case of strike, it is considered that employment contracts of workers are suspended. One of the essential changes related to employment rights is narrowing the right to salary. LLR defines that during participation in a strike, workers are entitled to contributions to salary to be paid by the employer according to special regulations regarding the lowest rate for payment of contributions. The rest of the basic net-salary of workers may be compensated in two ways. The first one according to the LLR, refers to a possibility of the strike organizer providing compensation to net-salary oftentimes in line with rules of union solidarity funds, if such funds exist. The second one usually derives from collective agreements. Hence, according to the General Collective Agreement for the private sector, during a strike organized because of violation of workers’ rights regulated by law, collective agreement and employment contract, the employer should pay workers compensation to salary in the amount of 60% of the basic wage for a period equivalent to 5 working days.  Compensation to salary is paid only if reasons for calling a strike refer to failure to pay up to three salaries, failure to pay contributions and compensations, and failure to sign a collective agreement and ensure working conditions. Workers are entitled to contribution to salary only if the legitimacy of the strike is in keeping with the enactments of the relevant trade union or if it is legitimized by the relevant trade union.

My Labour.
My Rights
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The Labour Rights Campaign is implemented
by the Economic and Social Council supported by Strengthening Social Dialogue.

The project is funded by the European Union, and implemented by the International Labour Organization

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The content is sole responsibility of the Strengthening the Social Dialogue Project
and does not necessarily reflect the positions of the European Union.

Share

The Labour Rights Campaign is implemented
by the Economic and Social Council supported by Strengthening Social Dialogue.

The project is funded by the European Union, and implemented by the International Labour Organization

partners1

The content is sole responsibility of the Strengthening the Social Dialogue Project
and does not necessarily reflect the positions of the European Union.