The Croatian ‘branch’ of PLOTKI (well, that would be, Vid et moi.) planned its first launch ever in Zagreb during the known Sunday event Book and Cakes held by the writer Simo Mraović in the library ‘Bogdan Ogrizović’. We were promised one Sunday in the month of January, but then….Suddenly all Sunday events had to be cancelled due to the new law that came into power with the beginning of the New Year: the prohibition of work on the last day of the week.
On the first Sunday of the year 2004 started with rows of people in front of rare opened shops waiting for a loaf of bread. Some people said that it reminded them of the war years – either the nineties or the forties, depending on the generation questioned…The habits of getting fresh bread on the Sunday morning are hard to erase only due to a new law that forbids work on Sunday.
It all started with the initiative of Croatian Caritas and The Franciscan Institute for Culture of Peace that started the campaign in April 2003. The campaign was supported by the Croatian Conference of Bishops and was backed up by the Coordination of Croatian Autonomous Unions, Independent Croatian Unions, Croatian Trade Union, and Croatian Employer’s Association. The aim of the initiative was to put awareness of the poor labour situation in Croatia by which some of the basic workers rights were endangered. The plan was to put pressure on Croatian Parliament and Government as to enforce the law on general restriction of work on Sundays and holidays. What was also stressed (and that became one of the controversial points of the initiative) was the endangerment of religious obligations of workers working on Sundays.
This opened a Pandora’s box of problems…
The first one was that regulations should be made that the shops smaller than 500m² should be allowed to stay open. The next question was about the bigger shops that were family owned – how were they to be regulated as this would endanger the family’s only earnings? What shocked all after that was the ‘advice’ of Hans Flickenschild, the head of the IMF Mission for the Republic of Croatia who stated abruptly that Croatia should not pass this law. Subsequently was the joint statement of supermarket chains like Billa, Fliba (Mercatone), Getro, Hypermarkets Coop, Kaufland etc. declared that they are worried about the possible new situation and that it seems that they will have to cut down the number of work places if this law comes into power. The Unions denied and said that this is just pure blackmail. Also, in this joint statement the supermarket chains all of a sudden became worried about the discrimination of workers of other religions who would be discriminated by the new law, as they would have to work on Fridays or Saturdays.
Than after a week that the new law was passed, it was realised that the decision was too harsh, for example, that the gas stations and traffic should be exempt from this law. Furthermore, are the grannies that are selling cheese and sour cream on the market regulated with this law or not? What about the bistros, and even libraries? Thus occurred the bizarre situation that some regions declared themselves tourist regions as this would enable them to have shops opened….
The discussion still goes on and it seems that the only people that should have profited from this action, the workers themselves, are still not benefiting much from the new law. What should be stressed more than the change of poor labour conditions are the stronger law regulations that would control the employers. In that way they would be forced to pay all the taxes, overtime work, health and pension benefits etc. It is of course good that these people can spend their Sunday with their families, but it would be better if they would have a stable secure job with benefits, rather than having the Sunday lunch with the taste of fear of loosing this unstable job that they hardly got…
But the question remains: why is the Catholic Church of Croatia always in front of the state in putting the problems on the public agenda?