2 – Repeated violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


The ITUC affiliates in Croatia are the Independent Trade Unions of Croatia - Nezavisni Hrvatski Sindikati (NHS) and the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC).

Croatia ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1991 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1991.

In practice

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Railway workers dismissed for speaking to trade union19-02-2022

In June 2021, two Turkish companies, Cengiz Insaat Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. and Ci-Ay Mühendislik, were hired to reconstruct a railway section in Croatia. From the beginning of the project, SGH, an affiliate in the construction sector of the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH), contacted the management of the two companies to discuss the need to respect and apply the sectoral collective agreement for all the workers working on the reconstruction project. This includes Turkish workers brought in for the project. In June 2021, the union affiliate had a formal meeting with the management during which they asked for the consent of the employer to talk to workers, outside their working hours, to inform them of their rights. The management refused, claiming they respected the agreement and that any attempt at disseminating information to workers would only confuse them more. The employer then proceeded to decline any request from the SGH for further discussions.

On 17 February 2022, SGH visited the workers on the construction site during their break and handed them leaflets on their rights under the collective agreement. Workers reported a series of violations of their rights (e.g., working 250-300 hours a month; no paid overtime; not paid for days not worked because of bad weather, sickness, etc.). Immediately thereafter, seventeen workers received a text message informing them that they had been fired. No reason was given, but it appears that this measure is a clear act of retaliation.

SSSH and SGH requested immediate intervention from Croatian institutions – including the relevant ministry, the State Inspection for Labour, and Croatian Railways – and are organising a solidarity campaign.

Workers get lower working conditions if they are members of unions01-02-2020

The UATUC denounces the common practice among employers to unilaterally change working conditions for workers who are members of a union to put pressure on and harass them. It is frequent that a worker who has become a union representative will get less advancement opportunities. Workers are often discouraged from joining the union and often threatened with the non-renewal of their contract. Sometimes they are even offered money to leave the union, especially in sectors with a particularly vulnerable workforce, like the retail sector. Other cases of antiunion discrimination include overtime work and limiting the right to leave; threats of dismissal; contracts offered with less favourable terms, including lower pay; distribution of working time changed; changes in location of work (that is that workers are sent to remote places, where shop stewards cannot establish contact with union members).

The real scope of the problem is hard to objectively assess due to underreporting and difficulties in proving (direct) discrimination on such grounds.

Workers on fixed-term contracts dissuaded from joining unions01-02-2020

The UATUC reports that workers in non-standard forms of employment usually do not join unions, as they fear that their contracts will not be renewed by their employer if they do so. It is particularly the case in the tourism and hospitality sector. In a country where precarious work has become the norm and 90 per cent of the newly concluded contracts are fixed-term contract, such deterrent severely affects the ability of workers to exercise their right to freedom of association.

UATUC evicted from its offices by the government01-02-2020

The UATUC reports that on several occasions, the government of Croatia has brought property claims before court to evict the union from its offices in the cities of Zagreb, Požega, Daruvar, Šibenik and Split and that despite the absence of valid cause, courts have ordered the eviction of UATUC from its legally acquired offices. The UATUC has challenged these decisions and demanded that the government respect unions’ right of property. At the time of writing, appeals were still pending.

Serious attacks on trade union rights continue at Brodosplit Shipyard 07-05-2018

Brodosplit Shipyard is well known for its anti-union behaviour (see previous entries in 2013 and 2015). Since 2015 when the employer inexplicably cancelled the existing collective agreement, negotiations for the conclusion of a new agreement never really started, leaving the workers at the mercy of the employer’s will.
In 2017 Brodosplit Shipyard and some 50 other subsidiaries on the site presented workers with a form whereby they were forced to disaffiliate from the union. As a result, around 1,500 union members were pressured into leaving the union. Newly recruited workers, mostly young and migrant workers, were warned not to join a union when they signed their employment contract. They were told that “their best union is their employer”.
Furthermore, the regional representative and main shop steward at Brodosplit Shipyard received threats on his mobile phone because of his activities in the company. These threats were reported to the police and an investigation is ongoing. Targeted attacks on unions and union members are quite frequent at Brodosplit Shipyard. In 2016 the owner of Brodosplit Shipyard had already occupied the company union’s offices and confiscated its documents, thus preventing the trade union from carrying out its activities. While fear prevented the company union from reporting this act to the police, the sectoral union, Sindikat metalaca Hrvatske-Industrijski sindikat (SMH-IS), lodged a complaint to denounce these serious attacks on trade union rights As of this date the cases are still pending before the courts.

Employers interfering in collective bargaining 11-11-2017

The Sindikat metalaca Hrvatske-Industrijski sindikat (SMH-IS) has denounced the general reluctance of employers to engage in collective bargaining, using stalling tactics, favouring negotiations with one trade union (yellow union) over another, or outright refusal to negotiate. For example, in the retail sector, employers have constantly delayed negotiations, and it took over four years to finally conclude the branch collective agreement. In most cases, employers justified their opposition to bargain collectively by the existence of company by-laws, which they are obliged to adopt in companies of more than 20 workers, as provided in the Labour Code. However, by-laws usually just reproduce the text of the Labour Code, and questions of wages and working conditions are not regulated in detail, if at all. These gaps leave wide discretionary power to employers to set working conditions.

Employers interfering in union organising 11-11-2017

Unions in the metal industry are still facing many difficulties in organising. The Sindikat metalaca Hrvatske-Industrijski sindikat (SMH-IS) has reported on four enterprises in particular where workers have been prevented from forming a union trade union, usually through threats to their employment.
Similar claims have been made by the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), according to which workers are threatened with the non-renewal of their fixed-term employment contract or career freezes if they join a union. UATUC affiliated unions have reported cases of discrimination against workers who were either members of trade unions or were considering joining a union, in particular in the security sector. UATUC also reported on employers’ practices during the recruitment process whereby during job interviews they strongly advise new workers to join their yellow union.
These interferences in union organising have to be examined in light of the situation of the labour market in Croatia where more than 90 per cent of employment contracts are fixed-term contracts. In 2016, 8.4 per cent of workers in Croatia were employed with contracts of less than three months.

Strike action restricted 20-10-2017

The Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC) observed a worrying trend in 2017 whereby almost every strike action against which employers had asked for a judicial ban was prohibited by the judicial authorities. UATUC has denounced the narrow interpretation by courts of trade union interests and of their balancing with business interests, as was the case with the prohibition of the strike in Hrvatski studiji University in 2017.
Moreover, in the fall 2017 the government adopted the Utility Services Act despite UATUC objections. According to the union, the Act is contrary to section 214 of the Labour Code, as it enables the employer to unilaterally adopt rules which can limit the right to strike.

Attacks on collective bargaining in Sisak 13-03-2017

In 2017 a conflict arose between trade unions and the mayor of Sisak, a city southeast of Zagreb. The city, which owns a great number of public institutions and companies in the area, has deliberately and repeatedly undermined the collective bargaining rights of trade unions. At the instruction of the mayor, the directors of these companies have bypassed negotiations with trade unions and have concluded agreements directly with works councils on a number of issues that, by law, can only be negotiated with trade unions. Unions filed a report with the State Attorney’s Office on 13 March 2017. However, they have received no information since then. Unions are contemplating the submission of a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association to denounce this blatant attack on collective bargaining.

The institute of immunology gave a caution to a steward that spoke at a press conference01-03-2016

On 1 March 2016 the Autonomous Trade Union of Energy, Chemistry and Non-metal Workers of Croatia (EKN) organised a press conference regarding policy choices of the Institute of Immunology. At this occasion a shop steward spoke in public on behalf of the trade union and of workers on the compelling need to continue the production and issuing relevant permits. Following the press conference, the Institute issued a caution and threatened the worker with dismissal because, according to management, “no one authorised her to speak in public on behalf of the company” while clearly she was speaking on behalf of the workers. In this respect EKN stated that this is a clear attempt to ban trade union public statements that raise awareness on the policy choices of general interest concerning this public institute.

Public enterprise engages in bad faith in collective bargaining01-12-2015

In December 2015 the Zagrebački holding d.d. (a company owned by the City of Zagreb) tried to engage in collective bargaining with trade unions despite the existence of a valid collective agreement and seven annexes. According to trade unions, this invitation concealed – behind the illusory intention to consolidate general provisions of the collective agreement – the real will to seriously undermine workers’ rights.
Other cases of management engaging in bad faith in collective bargaining processes were registered:
-  at Kostwein Varaždin Company where management stalled negotiations with the excuse that time was needed to translate the text of the collective agreement into German and therefore allow the enterprise to state its official position with respect to the content of the agreement;

-  at Brodosplit Shipyard where the company, well known for its anti-union behaviours, recently cancelled the collective agreement despite that in its privatisation contract it was explicitly stated the opposite;

-  at the ferry Company Jadrolinija d.d., where a few years ago a collective bargaining procedure was launched to regulate seafarers’ work, but ever since an agreement has never been reached. Such delay was due to employer’s obstructionist attitude, systematically refusing any proposal of the trade union, as for example the one of including extra hours in the basis of calculation of salaries.

Various attempts to weaken trade unions withholding union dues30-06-2015

Despite the existence of check-off agreements, in more than one case enterprises attempts to withhold union dues have been registered.
Such was the case of the company KTD Bilan from Orebić that was maliciously delaying with unnecessary administrative procedures the allocation of membership dues.
Another case was registered at Autoprijevoz – Otočac where the local Transport and Communication dues were collected from workers’ wages for years, but they have never been transferred to the trade union account.

New owner of Brodosplit Shipyard is attacking unions17-12-2013

Brodosplit Shipyard has been engaging in serious anti-union activities ever since it was bought by Tomislav Debeljak.

In March 2013, management posted declarations on its Facebook page indicating attempts to expel trade unions from the company and to relocate them to other premises. Moreover, the company stated that it had hired private investigators who were following trade unionists in the shipyard. It was also explained that salary deductions were made from trade union members for charity purposes. Management justified these actions by arguing that companies without union presence were more successful. These intimidating statements have led to a sharp fall in trade union membership. After about eight months of anti-union campaigning, trade union membership fell from 2,700 to 200.

In May 2013, the company decided to conduct a peer review based on a questionnaire prepared by management. The questionnaire included questions asking workers to judge how bad they think unions are for the company. Results were then used to determine the employment relationship of workers. In total, 20 workers lost their jobs because of their allegiance to the union movement. Almost all shop stewards lost their employment.

In November 2013, workers organised peaceful strike actions to protest wage arrears. Police were present during the protests and reported there was no violence or disruption. Nevertheless, the company suspended the employment contracts of 254 workers on 18 November 2013. Up until today, 20 workers have not been reinstated. Tomislav Debeljak continues to intimidate workers by calling trade unionists hooligans and terrorists.

Anti-union discrimination20-03-2013

Management at Brodosplit, a shipyard, dismissed trade union members, 35 in total, without explanation or justification. Other trade union members have also been threatened with dismissal. The company also hired a security firm to follow trade union members and shop stewards and to investigate trade union officers.

Discrimination against union members24-12-2012

On 24 December 2012, Zagreb Holding dismissed Dario Rastovcan, a shop steward from the Autonomous Trade Union of Workers in Public Utilities and Housing Services of Croatia who had been raising violations of rights guaranteed by law and by collective agreements.

Government cancels Basic Collective Agreement12-09-2012

On 17 September 2012, the Croatian Government cancelled the Basic Collective Agreement that provided benefits for officials and employees in the public sector after negotiations with unions broke down over wage cuts proposed by the Cabinet. The decision to cancel the collective agreement took effect on 17 December 2012.

Reprisals for trade union activities31-12-2011

It is not uncommon for shop stewards and union activists to face reprisals, including dismissals, for organising industrial action or for publicly speaking about companies’ illegal business practices.

Short-term contracts complicate organising: 31-12-2011

The majority of recently employed workers are on fixed-term contracts for up to three years, with some contracts being as short as three months. This situation especially affects young workers and women. Faced with the threat of their contracts not being renewed, workers do not dare to form or join a union.

Justice and law enforcement - still room for improvement30-11-2009

The latest EU Progress Report on Croatia, while applauding the reduction in the backlog of cases, continued to note that court procedures were too long, that the enforcement of court decisions was ineffective, and that the monitoring and follow-up by the State Inspectorate and the judicial system of violations of workers’ rights remained weak. Croatian trade unions have called for the establishment of real labour courts, which could significantly expedite the resolution of labour conflicts. The reinstatement of trade union leaders remains a problem, as employers sometimes prefer to pay a fine for failure to comply with a court order than to reinstate a trade unionist.

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