On 15 January 2018 China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) won the bid to re-start largest infrastructure project “Pelješac Bridge” in Croatia. The CRBC had outbid the Austrian giant Strabag and the Italian-Turkish consortium of Astaldi-Ictas.
Immediately following the announcement, the Trade Union of Construction Industry of Croatia (SGH) initiated a dialogue with the CRBC management urging for respect of the national collective bargaining agreement for the construction industry in Croatia. Unfortunately, the company was not easily swayed; however, when in June 2018 in not respecting the national collective agreement for the construction industry, the SGH has used this as leverage to get the CRBC management to the negotiating table.
After a series of negotiations, the SGH and CRBC successfully signed a collective bargaining agreement on 22 March 2019. However, the union received the original copy of the CBA on 24 May 2019. Key areas of the include the following:
Increase of flexibility in working time;
Higher overtime bonuses;
Basic salaries paid at the same level as in CBA for the construction sector;
Additional bonuses for the workers (night work, Sunday, holidays, ...);
Rules to nominate a trade union shop stewards and give protection; and
Trade union representative can obtain documents and monitor working time and salaries for all workers in the project (Pelješac bridge).
Despite some challenges, the union remained steadfast in their goal resulting in success. Jasenka Vukšić, President of SGH stated, “SGH strives to ensure the implementation of the national Collective Bargaining Agreement for construction, which amongst others ensures the protection of salaries of workers in the construction sector, by giving them the right to salaries that are higher than the amount specified in the Law on the Minimum Wage. This applies to all construction workers working on the territory of Croatia; therefore, this practice has continued at the currently largest construction project in Croatia - the construction of the Pelješac Bridge.”
The success of SGH’s in signing a CBA with CRBC is the result of a series of meetings the union along with other BWI affiliates in the region have conducted under the BWI South East Europe Infrastructure Trade Union Network which was established in 2010.
In 2014 meeting of the Network which was held in Skopje, North Macedonia, the unions realized that in the process of sharing information to improve the working conditions and application of ILO core labour standards in the Pan-European Transport Corridors and infrastructure projects crossing the region of South East Europe, new construction companies including from China, were coming to the region to build infrastructure projects.
One of the goals of this meeting was to develop new and innovative strategies for organising workers and negotiating collective bargaining agreements particularly targeting Chinese construction companies. Noting this, the opportunity to share information and experiences with BWI affiliates from Africa who had previous experience in successfully negotiating agreements with Chinese construction companies was extremely useful.
The SGH utilized the proceedings and outcome of these meeting to develop a concrete strategy when the opportunity came with the awarding of the Pelješac Bridge to CRBC.