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President Of The Management Board Of The NLB Bank: Inequality In Slovenian Society Is Among The Lowest In The World

“Before the elections, the government promised us a new social deal, but instead, these days, strikes and protests are being announced by the dissatisfied people who are receiving the lowest salaries, as well as by doctors, judges and managers,” was the announcement for the recent episode of the show Tarča (Target) on the national media outlet Radio-Television Slovenia. “These are intellectuals who know a lot and are a rare commodity,” Blaž Brodnjak said about doctors, whom some people are calling amphibians, because they are working in the public as well as the private sector. We have an open, free democratic society, and we are part of the European Union, so the people will simply leave and start their lives abroad if they do not get good enough conditions for their work in Slovenia.

“This is just a new form of disruption and division, this vocabulary we are now hearing is not necessary. I always call for strategic dialogue, which unfortunately is not happening, or it comes with a limited set of social subsystems,” said Blaž Brodnjak, President of the Management Board of the NLB Bank and Manager of the Year 2022, in response to the latest public accusations that entrepreneurs think too capitalistically and the government too socialistically. “What we are seeing is tragic, but on the other hand, we have to realise that there are probably reserves in the public sector or elsewhere,” he commented on a clip on the show Tarča, which showed how people in certain sectors are practically living in poverty – for example, cooks in social welfare institutions, servers, cleaners and janitors are all paid extremely poor salaries. In Slovenia, as many as 25,271 public administration workers earn less than the minimum wage, even though these are professions that are desperately needed. Even after 40 years of service, a cleaner still does not make the minimum wage, warned the head teacher of the France Bevk Primary School.

“The prevailing model in modern democratic societies is the market economy, which means that even our small Slovenian economy is competing on global markets. Therefore, we need to agree together in a strategic dialogue on what level of welfare rights we want and whether we can achieve it with the current taxation systems,” stressed Brodnjak, who also pointed out that the Gini coefficient, which measures the equality of the distribution of income among the population, shows that we are second only to Slovakia in terms of equality. Accusations that entrepreneurs are causing growing social inequality by pressuring and attacking the left are, therefore, unfounded. The same applies to the accusation that lowering taxes and contributions is to blame for the collapse of the healthcare system. “Inequality in Slovenian society is among the lowest in the world,” Brodnjak reiterated. Of course, inequality can always be even smaller, but the question is whether we can finance the increased volume in the public sector with what we generate or whether we need to generate more together – thus, this is a social compact.

If we want to create more, the only way to compete in global markets is through quality. If we compete with our prices, we can only have lower wages, warned Brodnjak, who is also convinced that the root of the problem is that we separate the public and private sectors at all, because they operate in an open, free society. Salaries in both sectors should be equalised, especially for critical profiles. “How can you expect someone who has 30 years of experience and a lifetime of furthering their education, and people can literally die in their arms, to do something in the public sector for a third of the salary of the private sector, with great vigour?” he pointed out.

“Those with the lowest salaries have gotten nothing so far, so it is imperative that the minimum wage is raised by at least 100 euros. And besides, I think that Slovenians want to live in a society where there are no poor people, where we are all in the middle class, which means that there will also be no extreme wealth, because these are two faces of the same problem,” said the Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities from the Left party (Levica), Luka Mesec. The change will affect 40-50 thousand employees in Slovenia, which is the number of people estimated by trade unions to be earning minimum wage. The coalition agreement states, among other things, that they will set the public sector as an example and will abolish precarious work in it as soon as possible – where there is a need for regular work, outsourcing will be abolished. What does this promise look like in reality? Fifteen ministry buildings are regularly cleaned by outsourced cleaners, but only two ministries are cleaned by cleaners who are actually employed there – they hired nine new cleaners in 2020, and not one since Robert Golob’s government took office. When asked why it is taking so long to fulfil the promise written in the coalition agreement, Minister Mesec replied that he had not prepared for this question and did not know the answer. However, he boasted that his ministry employs its own cleaners – which is true, but they were hired in 2020, so obviously during the Janez Janša government.

“I think we should finally start talking about other things, other salaries in Slovenia. For a long time now, we have been calling on the government, not only this one but also the previous one, to think about the extent to which these wages should be taxed, so that the state could also do something in a positive sense, so that we could raise the net wages of employees at the expense of lower contributions, which are very high in Slovenia,” Blaž Cvar, President of the Chamber of Craft and Small Business of Slovenia, said some time ago. Bankers have also pointed to the downside of the increase in the minimum wage, which increases the pool of its recipients, warning that there will be fewer and fewer creditworthy people, as, by law, a borrower must be able to keep 76 percent of the gross minimum wage per month, even after paying the monthly instalment. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry pointed out that Slovenia has the lowest difference between the minimum and average wage among all European Union countries, with the minimum wage amounting to 55 percent of the average wage. The country also ranks first in the share of employees earning less than 105 percent of the minimum wage – which is just above the minimum wage. “This is why the Chamber of Commerce and Industry stresses that it is necessary to be even more careful when adjusting the minimum wage, as its level has an impact on the long-term competitiveness of the economy and the economics of jobs with below-average added value, which are highly susceptible to the price pressure of international competition,” they added in a recent press release.

Sara Kovač

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