Annual survey of violations to trade union rights in Lithuania

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Anti-union behaviour remains a problem, and women are especially affected: two big companies noted for their anti-union behaviour have a predominantly female workforce. At least three trade unionists were fired in connection with their activism. The authorities unsuccessfully attempted to charge organisers of a union rally with misdemeanour. The right to strike is subject to many restrictions.

Despite recent amendments to the Labour Code, a number of restrictions to trade union rights still apply. The law recognises the right to form and join trade unions, but at least 30 members or one-fifth of the total workforce is required to create a union, and workers who are dismissed cannot keep their trade union membership.

The right to collective bargaining is secured in both the private and the public sector, except for certain government employees. The right to strike is circumscribed by several provisions, and is not extended to some civil servants. Strikes are only possible if all dispute resolution procedures have been exhausted, and are only permitted at the company level. Solidarity strikes are also prohibited. Furthermore, employers have the right to employ other persons to perform the work of striking workers in certain sectors, including public transport and waste disposal. The authorities can decide on the minimum service to be established during a strike if the parties fail to reach an agreement.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009
Background: Lithuania became one of the main victims of the global economic crisis. In May, EU budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite won the presidential elections with a large majority, standing as an independent (non-partisan) candidate.
Ineffective legal protection: The judicial system is slow in dealing with unfair dismissal cases. There are no labour courts or judges specialised in labour disputes. Furthermore, the trade union organiser has to prove that s/he was dismissed due to trade union activities, which is impossible in most cases.
Charges against organisers of a protest action:
The national protest action of 16 January, organised by three national trade union centres - the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK), the Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF) and the Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (LPS ‘Solidarumas’) - called for responsible anti-crisis measures and social dialogue. The protest, which involved some 5,000 to 7,000 people, ended in riots and civil unrest. The trade unions, which had called on the participants to stay calm and respect the rights and freedoms of others, dissociated themselves from the rioters. Nevertheless, three leaders of the national confederations, Artūras Černiauskas of LPSK, Vydas Puskepalis of LDF and Aldona Jašinskiene of LPS ‘Solidarumas’, were charged with misdemeanour for failing to ensure sufficient control of the meeting.

On 14 April, the court discharged the trade unionists on all counts and the proceedings were discontinued. The police did not appeal the case. If found guilty, the trade unionists could have faced fines of up to LTL 2000 (the equivalent of EUR 580) or up to 30 days of administrative arrest. Unions believed that the proceedings were aimed at intimidating the unions and deterring them from organising similar actions in the future.

Brewery undermines collective bargaining: In 2008, the Švyturys – Utenos Alus company had signed a collective agreement covering two Carlsberg-controlled breweries (see the 2009 edition of the Survey). On 16 March, the company asked the trade union to renegotiate the wage indexation provided by the collective agreement. The union then asked for information pertaining to the company’s financial situation. Management responded by calling a staff assembly on 25 March to select a “staff representative”, and then told the union that either it should sign amendments to the collective agreement without any further discussion, or else the agreement would be signed by the staff representative. The union managed to oppose this manoeuvre, however, and negotiations resumed shortly afterwards.
Union busting in supermarkets: In 2008, a trade union affiliated to the Lithuanian Labour Federation was established at Palink, which owns a number of supermarket chains including IKI, IKIUKAS and CENTO. Since then, trade union members and leaders at the company, most of them women, have been harassed and intimidated. The three most active members of the union board have lost their jobs. Galina Proskurina was sacked and escorted out by company security guards just one day after the union was established. Oksana Michalevic received an official warning, was threatened with more disciplinary sanctions and was eventually forced to resign due to health problems that were probably caused by work-related stress. Irina Judina, who faced constant harassment at the workplace after being elected to the trade union board, was fired for gross professional misconduct. These cases were pending in court at the end of the year.
Unauthorised surveillance: In September Roma Katinene, a criminal investigator and a leader of the Kaunas branch of the pre-trial investigators’ trade union, discovered that an audio surveillance device had been placed in her office. It had not been placed by the internal control services, and an inquiry concluded that no surveillance had been authorised and that it was illegal. Several trade union leaders publicly commented that the surveillance was an attempt to monitor trade union activities, as the Kaunas branch has been the most active organisation in the region.Foreword
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