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Photograph: screenshot /

MHS trade union leader Vilim Ribic has expressed regret that government officials did not respond to a union invitation to attend talks at the MHS offices in Zagreb on Monday, while Deputy Prime Minister Bozo Petrov confirmed in a letter to trade unions that negotiations with them would continue on April 25.

Of representatives of six government ministries in charge of negotiations with six public sector unions, only an assistant to the culture minister arrived at the MHS offices for today's talks but he, too, returned after realising that he was the only government official at the talks. That means that there was no coordination in the government and that the Culture Ministry had not been informed that attendance by government officials at the talks with trade unions was not planned, Ribic told reporters.

MHS stands for the Independent Union of Science and Higher Education Sector Employees.

Ribic said that unions were responsible and dealt with problems arising from an agreement envisaging a six-percent increase in the basic salary in public and state services, expressing readiness for compromise and social dialogue.

The public sector unions are demanding the pay increase, following GDP growth of 2% for two consecutive quarters, as provided for under a 2009 agreement that took effect on January 1.

This shows that unions want to solve the problem while the government is dealing with its internal relations and misunderstandings and is not aware of the gravity of the problem, Ribic said, recalling that more than a month had passed and the government had not made a protocol for negotiations with trade unions even though it had undertaken to make one, which prompted trade unions to make a negotiating protocol and forward it to the government.

As for Petrov's letter informing unions of the continuation of negotiations on April 25, Ribic said that the letter was full of good intentions and abstract language about the importance of social dialogue, noting that unions wanted deeds rather than words.

Asked if he still expected Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic to attend the talks, Ribic said unions believed Oreskovic's presence at a meeting with unions would be very important and that by doing so Oreskovic could gain insight into the complexity of the problem since unions were not sure that government negotiators were aware of it.

He added that he believed the problem could be solved with three to four rounds of talks and that unions, which continued to insist on the pay rise, would settle "for a compromise solution" that would be good both for union members and for the state.

One should see how much the pay rise would affect GDP growth and public debt and see what is more important, Ribic said, adding that the problem required consultations with economic experts.

Asked how long unions were willing to wait before they started filing lawsuits over non-compliance with the agreement, Ribic said they would have to see if it paid to sue the state. I hope that we will not have to ask a court to check the legal validity of the agreement, he added.

The head of the Independent Union of Employees in Secondary Schools, Branimir Mihalinec, was hopeful that Oreskovic, Petrov and Finance Minister Zdravko Maric would start dealing with the problem.

There is no time for fruitless discussions and we believe the Prime Minister should put an end to them, said Mihalinec. 

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