VILNIUS - The Lithuanian Parliament on March 22 passed amendments to labor laws, liberalizing the labor market despite protests from trade unions.
The Liberal-Social Liberal government says that new laws would speed up economic progress and create new jobs. Trade union activists say the amendments are more favorable for employers than employees.
The controversial amendments were passed with a 69-47 vote and seven abstentions. The votes against the amendments were cast by the Social Democratic opposition.
The laws regulate only the private sector, where some 80 percent of Lithuania's employees now work.
According to the amendments, employees may be hired not only for a fixed period of time but also for a certain job or assignment. Also, employment contracts may include the provision that fired employees must repay the employer the cost of their training.
The new amendments state that an employer can dismiss member of a trade union without the union's approval, which was previously forbidden.
Some 7 percent of all Lithuanian employees are members of a trade union. The new law says that only persons elected to the board of the local branch of a trade union cannot be dismissed without approval of the trade union.
The government says that Lithuania had the most socialistic labor laws in Europe and it was time to align them with laws in the European Union.
Under the old laws, a person dismissed after one to five years of work would get up to 12 average monthly wages as compensation. A person dismissed after more than five years of work would receive from 24 to 36 monthly wages as compensation.
With the new amendments, severance pay will be reduced threefold.
"It is better to dismiss several bad employees than to let the entire enterprise go bankrupt. Before, huge discharge gratuities were a big obstacle to firing these bad employees. Entire businesses, including good employees, were suffering from these rules. The new laws will improve things. Similar liberalization of labor laws in Italy soon created 1 million new jobs in that country," said Arturas Melianas, a Liberal MP and chairman of the parliamentary committee for social affairs and labor.
Trade unions were not convinced by these arguments.
On March 21, Algirdas Sisals, a Social Democrat MP and chairman of the Alliance of Lithuanian Trade Unions, organized pickets in front of the homes of Liberal and Social Liberal MPs.
Trade union activists stood in front of the houses of Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas on Silo Street and Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas in Vilnius' Tarande quarter. Protesters, standing in front of the house of acrobatic pilot Paksas, displayed a poster stating, "Paksas in the sky, nation on the rubbish heap."