Eslovenia: Student Labour

Eslovenia: Student Labour

Several thousand Slovenian students took the streets of Ljubljana and voiced their opposition to the “little labour” act. After several rounds of talks, the heads of the student organization ŠOU and Prime Minister Borut Pahor did not come to any acceptable solution regarding a legislative proposal that both limits students’ ability to work during their studies and places a maximum wage on their earnings.

Approximately 8,000 university and high school students from all over the country gathered on the morning of Wednesday, 19th May in the centre of Ljubljana to protest a new bill that would limit students’ work and thus their income during their studies.

While students are ones most loudly protesting the bill, the proposed change in the law applies not only to them, but also to pensioners, the unemployed and other “inactive” people. The measure is a part of a wider campaign, implemented by the government, in order to make the country more competitive.

What worries the students most is the fact that the so-called little labour act foresees the limitation of student work to 720 hours and EUR 6,000 per year. Students are naturally upset, explaining that many hold down jobs during their studies to pay their living costs in the face of dwindling scholarships. According to their leader, Katja Šoba, they have every right to earn their money, as it is often the only way to pay their studies and any kind of limitation would further worsen their financial situation. As she described, the politicians, while young, “... had sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. We’ll have ‘little labour’ and loans to pay.”

Loss of Control

The student protest, peaceful at first, later turned into a riot, when some of the students, who had gathered initially at Prešeren Square, then marched to the Slovenian Parliament. Despite the presence of hundreds of police officers in riot gear, some protestors began to throw eggs, granite blocks, signposts, even a molotov cocktail at the building, breaking some windows and forcing the parliament to suspend its session. The assembly suffered severe damage, estimated at EUR 27,000. To restrain the angry crowd, the police used pepper spray and arrested 31 rioters, 15 of whom were minors, many under the influence of alcohol.

Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, Ivan Svetlik labelled the violent protest a sad and regrettable event and added that the student organisation would have to accept full responsibility for what happened. In contrast, the organizers distanced themselves from any association with the violence by condemning it. As Šoba explained, she called on the group in front of the parliament to leave when the protest was over, but they were very angry and “difficult to control.”

“A Hotbed” of Irregularities

Why is student labour such a contentious issue? Perhaps the answer lies within the following facts: student jobs in Slovenia are the least taxed of all types of labour, students do not have to contribute to the public pension fund, nor do the employers have to pay for students’ social and health services. Since student workers are much cheaper than fulltime employees, many employers prefer hiring students or even demand to pay to somebody else’s student referrals. At the same time, there is very little paper work to do: everything that a student needs is a so-called student referral (i.e. a proof of student’s status) and he or she can start working immediately.

Since is almost impossible for young graduates to find a job directly after the completion of their studies, many decide to prolong their study and thus continue working via referrals. No wonder that Slovenia is facing a clear trend of prolongation of education: on average, studies last seven years – the second longest in Europe, after Poland. Since student labour is so appealing, many young people enrol in university not to study but to get proof of their student status and therefore be able to enter the student labour market.

The mediators between students and employers are the student employment services. There are approximately 80 such agencies across the country, which are financed from student labour. However, many believe that these agencies are totally unnecessary and that they live off the sweat of the students. According to the most recent data available, more than one million student referrals were issued in 2008 and the students performed 84 million hours of labour. The average annual income per student amounted to EUR 2,700, while gross disbursements came to EUR 340m. From this amount, some EUR 15m went to student organisations while another EUR 15m was divided between student employment services. Despite part of the student job taxation being channelled directly to student organisations (which do in fact support students with many benefits) some individuals have found a way to take advantage of the situation to become incredibly wealthy, the so-called “student barons”.

Every Third Must Work

Although students agree that the student labour market should be better regulated, at the same they time warn the government that every third student must work in order to live. In Slovenia only a quarter of all students receive some kind of scholarship in the average monthly amount of EUR 180, but according to their calculations an average student needs at least EUR 400 monthly for his/her needs. Some students receive state-issued scholarships, allocated on the basis of their financial situation and social status. Organisations and employers also give out scholarships, mostly to sponsor prospective students in their field of work.

Since most Slovenian students do not receive any scholarship, they must finance their years at university with part-time work. Therefore, apart from their everyday student obligations, many work in restaurants, bars and shops. The students do not work for a little extra spending money, the student organization explains, but because they are forced to and they would not do so if they had scholarships. In their eyes, student work is a form of a social corrective for under-privileged students and before the state implements the changes of student work, it will have to change its inadequate and insufficient scholarship policy first.

Minister of Labour Svetlik is convinced that the new Act regulates a number of students’ rights. An individual, for example, who would perform student work would be included in pension and health insurance programs. Moreover, working part time would be included in the working period. He also promised that the government would increase the number of scholarships, while part of the money from student work would be earmarked for the construction of student hostels and different student projects. Students should focus on studies, pointed out Svetlik, while the state should provide education to everyone, he added.

As the protests were organized and advertised using a large budget, one question remains: is it really the students who fear changes, or would the new act only cut the profits of those who take advantage of student jobs – the employers and the student services?

Slovenia Times, 04/06/10