Croatia has 4.4 million inhabitants and an employment rate of 48.7%. It joined the EU in 2013. After WW II, Croatia became a founding member and a federal constituent of the socialist state Yugoslavia. In June 1991, Croatia declared independence. The Croatian War of Independence was fought during the four years following the declaration. Currently, the World Bank views Croatia as a high income economy. The service sector dominates the economy, followed by the industrial sector and agriculture. Tourism is a significant source of revenue during the summer, with Croatia ranked the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world.
The Croatian OSH system includes several ways for workers to participate. The trade unions have a rather strong position because of the relatively high union density, lack of major political differences, reversed fragmentation trend, and easy access to private and public companies. However, unions appear to have lost members in recent years, which may be due to their position being significantly weakened in privatised and newly established companies.
European and national level
The European Directive 2002/14/EC (general framework for informing and consulting employees) requires employers to inform and consult workers via the workers’ representatives, in three specific areas:
- the recent and probable development of the activities and economic situation in the undertaking / establishment
- the situation, structure and probable development of employment, and any anticipatory measures envisaged
- decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations
The Labour Law, which came into force on 1 January 2010, regulates information and consultation rights. 28 of its 90 articles deal with the national framework, while the rest cover European Works Councils, European Societies, European Cooperatives, and cross-border mergers and takeovers. The information and consultation rights, which the Croatian Labour Code defines as the “workers’ participation in decision-making", apply to workers in companies employing more than 20 workers, apart from those employed in state administration bodies. It gives workers “the right to take part in decision-making on issues related to their economic and social rights and interests". This is typically exercised through the right of workers to elect one or more representatives.
The legislative basis for informing and consulting workers on OSH at European level is provided by the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive. This directive was transposed into Croatian law by the Safety and Health Protection at the Workplace Act (1996 and subsequent revisions up to 2012).
At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 and 20 of the ILO Convention C155 on Occupational Safety and Health. Croatia ratified this convention in 1991 . Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R 164 describes more specific rights and options for employees and their representatives regarding worker participation. Recommendation R 129 contains general provisions on communication between employers and workers.
Role of the trade unions
The role of workers’ representatives is regulated by the Labour Law, which also determines the activities of the trade unions. In 2010 this law was entirely harmonized with the respective EU law. A later proposed amendment by the Government, without prior consultations of the social partners, had to be withdrawn after protest from the trade unions. However, in 2012 it was amended by the Representativeness Law.
Croatia has a high (albeit declining) union density of 35%, compared to the EU average of around 23%. However, the union movement is very fragmented, with four major confederations and around 550 registered trade unions, most operating at the company level, others in particular sectors. Occupational and regional trade unions are rare. The Government introduced the Representativeness Law in order to reduce this fragmentation. It sets more demanding criteria for a union confederation to be recognised as representative, including participation in tripartite national councils and bodies, such as the pension fund. The new rules include:
- its affiliated unions must have at least 50,000 members (previously 15,000)
- it must have affiliates operating in at least five different areas of the economy
- it must have offices in at least four counties
- it must have been officially registered for at least six months
- it must employ at least five people directly
As was noted by the European Trade Union Institute in 2013, this has resulted in reversing the trend of fragmentation, with more unions joining the larger confederations, and with unions returning that had previously left. The latest figures from March 2013 show that the following trade union confederations met the requirements for being declared representative:
- SSSH (Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia, Savez samostalnih sindikata Hrvatske) 123,465 members in 23 unions (mainly private sector),
- NHS (Independent Croatian Trade Unions, Nezavisni hrvatski sindikati) 116,837 members in 59 affiliated unions (covers all sectors),
- MHS (Association of Croatian Unions, Matica hrvatskih sindikata) also known as Matica, with 57,990 members in 10 unions (mainly public sector)
- HUS (Croatian Trade Union Association, Hrvatska udruga sindikata), with 54,009 members in 57 unions (larger membership from the industry and the private sector).
The relatively high union density in Croatia is, however, distributed unevenly, as estimated by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in their 'Annual Review 2010 on Labour Relations and Social Dialogue in South East Europe: Croatia’. In the public sector it stands at 68%, while in the private sector it is as low as 17%. A similar discrepancy is found between privatised companies (31%) and newly established companies (9%). Unions generally appear to have lost membership in recent years, although the lack of precise data makes it difficult to confirm, as the review notes.
There is only one representative association for employers: The Croatian Employers’ Association (Hrvatska udruga poslodavaca, HUP), comprising 25 affiliates. Smaller associations wanted less stringent criteria, and subsequently the representativeness requirements were lowered, but still only HUP was able to meet the criteria.
Councils for Tripartite Cooperation
The Economic and Social Council was established in 1994 as a central body for tripartite dialogue between the government, employers and trade unions. The aim was to provide opinions, suggestions and evaluations on various issues of common interest. There are regular consultations and significant policy impact, as Eurofound noted. The government’s Office for Social Partnership was formed as a professional and logistic support to the Council. In 2012, however, this office was abolished and transformed into the Autonomous Service for Social Partnership at the Ministry of Labour and Pension System. This was carried out without consultation with social partners, which, according to the 2012 Friedrich Ebert Foundation review, was seen as evidence that the Government considers social dialogue to be ‘owned’ by the Ministry.
The role of the council is set out in the 2010 Labour Law, including monitoring the effects of economic and social policy, and making proposals on a coordinated price and salary policy to the government, employers and unions. It also comments on draft legislation for social and labour policy, and has a role in identifying mediators for dispute resolution.
There are five sub-committees, covering wage policy, taxes and living standards, social policy, education and the labour market, collective bargaining and employment rights, and sustainable development. There are also local economic and social councils at county level. The work of the Economic and Social Council, at both national and local level, is supported by a department for social partnership within the Ministry of Labour and Pensions.
Three national sectoral councils have been set up, and such councils have also been established at regional (county) level.
Representatives of the social partners are actively involved in the work of governing councils of various institutions, such as the Croatian Pension Insurance Fund, Croatian Health Insurance Fund, Croatian Employment Service, Croatian Institute for Health Insurance of Health Protection at Work and Croatian Privatisation Fund.
However, as Eurofound’s European Industrial Relations Observatory notes, by amending certain laws, the Government reduced the number of social partners from the governing bodies of the institute for pension insurance, thus ensuring the majority vote for the Government. Furthermore, New Standing Orders from the Croatian Parliament reduced the number of the social partner representatives in some parliamentary committees. Social partners requested (in vain) amendments to these Standing Orders, while trade union confederations protested by not appointing their representatives as outside members and not participating in parliamentary committees.
As well as the tripartite economic and social council, there are also bipartite social councils between employers and unions in three areas: railways, tourism, and construction.
In line with the Safety and Health Protection at the Workplace Act, the Government set up a National Council for Safety and Health at Work in 2000. It had the following tasks:
- To critically evaluate the OSH system and policy and inform the government of the Republic of Croatia about its findings and conclusions;
- To follow closely all OSH laws and regulations and, whenever necessary, suggest to the Government of the Republic of Croatia mutual harmonization and harmonization with international regulations, and
- To submit proposals relevant for OSH policy and suggest measures to be implemented, in cooperation with employers and workers.
According to the 2003 amendment ,the Council consists of a president and ten members (i.e. 11 persons): representatives of the state (2), of the employers (2), of the employed (2) and outstanding specialists in OSH (5). The president and members of this National Council are appointed for a 4 year term and may be re-appointed. In line with the above decision, the members of this National Council are: one representative of the Croatian Trade Unions and one representative of the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Croatia, and two representatives of the Croatian Employers’ Union. The drafting of the national OSH programme is regarded as the greatest achievement in this policy field.
The main rules on collective bargaining and collective agreements were set out in the 2010 Labour Law, although key elements, covering which unions are entitled to bargain and make collective agreements, were revised in July 2012 legislation on the representativeness of unions.
For company or organisation agreements, negotiations are conducted by an individual employer, whilst an employers’ association handles industry level agreements.
In 2012, the collective bargaining system was amended by the Act on the Criteria for Participation in Tripartite Bodies and Representativeness for Collective Bargaining. If there are more trade unions involved, the employer (or employers’ association) may negotiate with the bargaining committee established through the written agreement by all the trade unions concerned. In such cases, all the trade unions signatories of the agreement are considered representative, and it is not necessary to determine their representativeness. However, if trade unions fail to agree and do not sign the agreement, each trade union or employer / employers’ association may, before the Committee for determining representativeness, initiate the procedure for determining the representativeness of trade unions, as regulated by the Labour Law [9[. If there is only one operative trade union, then it is considered representative.
Collective bargaining in Croatia currently takes place at industry and company/organisation level, with company bargaining growing in importance. Sectoral collective agreements prevail in the public sector. There are no national intersectoral agreements. There is no automatic hierarchy governing the relationship between company/organisation agreements and industry level agreements, which can cover the same workers.
If a worker’s right arising from the employment relationship is regulated differently by employment contract, company by-laws, agreements between the works council and the employer, collective agreements or laws, the most favourable one for the worker applies according to the Labour Law Article 7(3).
A collective agreement must a) be in writing, b) define its area of application, c) be published. It is then legally binding on those who have signed it, although, in practice, agreements cover all workers, not just union members, as to fail to do so could be seen as discrimination.
Collective agreements can be either for a set period of time – up to five years – or for an indefinite period. If a collective agreement expires without cancellation, all terms related to the material rights of the workers remain valid, until the agreement is cancelled or replaced by a new one. The Government wanted to limit this indefinite period, and initiated a related amendment of the Labour Law in 2010, but they withdrew this after strong union protests.
On request of one of the signatories, industry level agreements can be extended beyond the signatory parties to all employers and workers in the industry, if the ministry decides to do so. In addition, union and employers’ association signatories must represent or employ the largest number in the industry. There must also be an assessment by the tripartite economic and social council that indicates that there is a public interest in extending the agreement.
Board level representation
Croatia has both public limited companies and private limited companies. Public limited companies can choose between a two-tier corporate governance structure (supervisory and management board), and a single-tier structure (one board). However, they must have a worker representative at board level (member of the supervisory board in a two-tier structure). Smaller limited companies can usually choose between a two-tier and one-tier structure. However, certain conditions required them to have a two-tier structure with a supervisory board. Under the 2010 Labour Law, limited companies with this two-tier structure must also have an employee representative on the supervisory board. Publicly owned companies must also have a worker representative at board level.
The single representative at board level is appointed and recalled by the works council. If there is no works council the employee representative is elected directly by the workers. The representative has the same legal position as other board members.
Workplace representation and works councils
In contrast to the centralism of the Soviet Union style systems, Yugoslavia established a system of self-managing socialism, where works councils played a prominent role throughout the period 1945-1990.
After independence, workplace representation in Croatia was provided through trade union representatives and works councils. This system was introduced in 1994, inspired by the German model, although modified in favour of the trade unions. If no works councils have been established, the union representative can take on most of their duties and responsibilities, something that happens reasonably frequently, as ETUI has observed.
The Labour Law allows unions to operate at the workplace and to promote the rights and interests of the union members. This can be done either through external union officials or through union representatives who are also workers in the organisation. In practice, as only 10 individuals are required to set up a union and because there are a large number of unions, union representation is often through a union or unions, where all the members work for the same employer. In other cases, the union members belong to a larger union with members spread across several employers, or even the whole country.
In companies and other organisations with at least 20 workers (bodies which are part of the state administration are an exception), workers have the right to be represented through a works council. The council has to protect and promote the interests of the workers.
If no works council has been set up, its rights and duties (except the nomination of a representative at board level) are taken on by a union representative working at the company. If there are several unions present in the workplace and they cannot reach agreement as to which union representative should exercise these rights, the choice is made through election, following the same rules as for the election of works council members.
The law stipulates that, in electing the members of the works council, equal representation of all units and worker groups must be considered (e.g. gender, age, and qualifications).
The law names two important functions for works councils:
- Getting information from the employer (minimum quarterly) on OSH and measures taken to improve working conditions.
- The employer must consult the works council before taking decisions on:
- adopting “employment rules" to regulate pay, work organisation, and issues such as sexual harassment (except when already covered by collective agreement) - employee rules are obligatory in all companies or organisations with more than 20 workers
- measures to protect health and safety at work
- introducing new technology and changes in work organisation and methods
- annual leave plans
- schedules for working hours
- night work
- redundancy social plans
The works council also has co-determination rights, but these do not relate to OSH.
The employer must permit members of the works council to attend training courses necessary for their council work.
If an employer has several operational units, workers may set up works councils in each, and a general council may be established for all staff, made up of representatives in the separate operational units.
General workers’ assembly
A general workers’ assembly must be held twice a year, to inform workers and allow discussions on the situation and development of the company, as well as on the activity of the works council. The setting up of a general workers’ assembly does not depend on the number of workers employed.
The general workers’ assembly is usually convened by the works council in agreement with the employer, but if the works council has not been established, the responsibility to convene the assembly falls on the employer.
EU-wide operating companies
Croatian representatives on bodies related to European Works Councils and the European Company are, in most cases, elected by all Croatian employees in the companies involved. The choice of an employee representative at board level in a European Company is the exception, as they are chosen by the works council of the European Company, in line with national practice for employee board-level representation in Croatian companies.
Croatian members of the special negotiating body (SNB) for a European Works Councils or for a European Company are elected by the workers of the company in a secret ballot. The candidates can be proposed either by trade unions with members in the company concerned, or by a group of at least 10% of the workers. The primary legislation does not specify whether or not SNB members must be workers of the company. However, it states that the government will issue detailed regulations covering the election of worker representatives from Croatia. The arrangements are exactly the same for Croatian members of a European Works Councils, set up under the fallback procedure in the annex to the directive.
Where an employee representative from Croatia is to be appointed at board level in a European Company set up under the fall back provisions of the directive, they should be appointed or elected by the works council of the European Company. This is in line with national practice for choosing employee representatives on the boards of Croatian companies. They are appointed, and can be recalled, by the national works council.
Safety representatives and safety committees
As laid down in the Safety and Health Protection at the Workplace Act worker representatives for safety at work (povjerenici radnika za zaštitu na radu) are the main way in which workers’ health and safety interests are represented. They are elected by the whole workforce. In larger organisations (more than 50 workers) a joint safety committee (odbor za zaštitu na radu) must be set up. A central safety committee (središnji odbor za zaštitu na radu ) must also be established where there are more than 250 employees and workplaces in separate locations. Trade unions can also appoint safety representatives if this is provided for in the collective agreement. However, in practice, there are only few collective agreements which cover health and safety (see below).
In most cases, the number of employee safety representatives that can be elected is as follows:
Table 1: Number of safety representatives in relation to company size
|Number of employees||Number of employee safety representatives|
|20 to 75||1|
|76 to 250||3|
|251 to 500||5|
|501 to 750||7|
|751 to 1,000||9|
|There are then an additional two safety representatives for every further 1,000 employees. (This is the same as the number of works council members who should be elected in similar sized workplaces.)|
In addition, where there are particular risks to health and safety, an employee safety representative must be appointed, even if there are fewer than 20 employees. The number of any trade union representatives to be appointed depends on the collective agreement. If there are several employee safety representatives, they should select one of their midst as a coordinator.
In most cases where an employer has more than 50 employees, a safety committee must be set up (not the case where the minister agrees that risk assessment has shown no significant health and safety risks). The safety committee consists of the employer, or the employer’s agent, the health and safety specialist employed by the organisation, the occupational physician – where applicable, and either the worker safety representatives or the coordinator of the worker safety representatives. The safety committee is chaired by the employer, or the employer’s agent. The labour inspectors have to be informed when the meetings of the committee are scheduled, and they have a right to attend. There are no specific rules for the central safety committee, but these must be established in organisations with different locations and more than 250 employees.
Employers have to implement procedures, which allow workers and their representatives to be consulted on all matters related to health and safety, so that they can influence decisions. The main task of the worker safety representative is to act in the interests of the employees’ health and safety, and monitor the implementation of the regulations and other OSH measures covering the workplace they represent. Where there are trade union safety representatives, they have the same tasks and rights as other employee safety representatives.
Employee safety representatives have the right to:
- submit proposals relating to health and safety decisions
- require the employer to take appropriate measures to reduce and eliminate sources of danger
- complain to the appropriate authorities where they consider that the employer’s measures have been inadequate
- participate in plans to improve working conditions, in the introduction of new technologies and materials, and in encouraging the employer to implement health and safety regulations
- be informed about changes that affect workers’ health and safety
- access and use the documentation relating to health and safety
- receive workers’ health and safety complaints
- inform the labour inspectorate of their observations, attend inspections and respond to the inspection findings
- call in the labour inspectorate where there is a threat to the life or health of employees and the employer has failed to do so
Employee safety representatives should also:
- train and develop their health and safety knowledge
- encourage other employees to work safely (through their own conduct)
- inform workers about OSH measures taken by the employer
- inform the works council of their own activities at least quarterly.
In their work, they should have access to the documents and regulations they need.
The representatives are supposed to work on the safety committee, if there is one in the organisation. They plan and supervise the implementation of health and safety rules, and deal with OSH information and training. The committees plan and implement policies to prevent accidents and occupational diseases, and to encourage continuous improvement in health and safety.
The safety committee should meet at least quarterly (and within 48 hours of any death or injury). If the employer fails to call a meeting within 48 hours of a death or injury, the worker safety representatives have the right to do so. The same applies if the employer twice fails to call a normal meeting within three months of the last meeting.
Unless other arrangements have been established in the collective agreement between the union and the employer, worker safety representatives are elected using the same rules that apply to works council elections. This means that they are elected by the workers in a ballot, which is supervised by an electoral committee of at least three members, appointed by the bodies – unions or groups of workers – who have nominated candidates. Candidates may be nominated, either by unions who have members at the workplace, or by a group of workers representing at least 10% of the workforce. All workers may stand for office; there is no service requirement. Elections are not valid unless at least one third of the workers have voted. The term of office is three years.
Safety representatives are entitled to the necessary training. They must be given sufficient time to do their work (four hours a week; works council members have six). All these areas can be improved through a collective agreement.
During their period of office the employer must not dismiss, transfer or place the employee safety representatives at a disadvantage in some other way, unless this has been authorised by the works council.
The main way that trade unions have put OSH on the agenda is by creating more awareness and offering training.
The trade unions in Croatia have a rather strong position because of a relatively high union density, no major political differences, the reversed fragmentation trend, and easy access to private and public companies. However, unions appear to have lost members in recent years, which may be due to their position being significantly weakened in privatised and newly established companies.
A 2007 study commissioned by the ILO (National Safety and Health Profile in the Republic of Croatia) found that all major union confederations had increased their OSH efforts, making detailed plans, organising seminars, while one had appointed a full time OSH advisor. The study concluded that OSH is ‘undoubtedly one of the top priorities’ of the trade unions, who were also increasing their cooperation with other OSH players.
However, the ILO noted that workers were only vaguely acquainted with safety and health protection measures and their rights and responsibilities in this regard. The OSH project of the Association of Independent Trade Unions had started by that time, with the aim (in the next two years) of involving all workers’ OSH representatives (about 2500) in OSH training. These should then, in turn, assist their colleagues in realising their rights and solving their problems, with the help of the branch office representatives.
According to Eurofound, tripartite social dialogue is well established in Croatia, and its influence on policymaking is considerable.  The consultations have played an important role in developing social and employment policy, including the industrial relations structure. Nonetheless, there have certainly been tensions, particularly since the economic and financial crisis began. However, in recent years it has not led to any formal social pacts or agreements.
In mid-2010, trade union confederations raised objections to certain procedures and voting rules within the Economic and Social Council. These confederations suspended their participation in this body until March 2011, when new rules of procedure were adopted. Trade unions have also insisted on a statutory definition of the representativeness criteria for trade unions and employers to collectively bargain, which is an issue to be discussed as soon as a draft of the proposed act is prepared. Another highly relevant issue for the Council has been late/irregular payment of wages, and measures to alleviate this practice.
As regards the National Council for Safety and Health at Work, the ILO noted in its 2007 study that, in spite of serious problems, the council had been very active in encouraging dialogue on OSH between social partners. Before submitting the latest amendments to the OSH Law, the representatives of the employers and the workers had a long discussion and the representative of the state joined them only in the final stage of negotiations.  The Draft National OSH Program is considered the greatest achievement of the National Council for Safety and Health at Work thus far. Work on that Draft Law started in 2004, but the Law had not been adopted by the time the ILO concluded its study.
In order to strengthen the position of the National Council for Safety and Health at Work, it was decided that the Social Partnership Office of the Government of the Republic of Croatia should handle its administrative work, which was agreed with all social partners and relevant state administration bodies. The Coordination Council of the Government of the Republic of Croatia for Social Activities and Human Rights also supported the idea. However, the Government had not decided the issue in 2007.
There is a growing trend of concluding more and more company agreements, and a reluctance to conclude sectoral agreements, as noted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in their 2012 study.
The collective agreement coverage in the public sector, which employs about one third of all workers, was almost 100 per cent. In 2012 the Foundation estimated that this coverage dropped to about 40% because of 'a considerable loss in the number of employed in the activities in which sectoral CA [collective agreement] has been extended by labour minister’s decision to the whole activity'.  As regards the private sector, Eurofound estimated the coverage at 45% in their 2012 study, most of which is due to the extension of sector-level agreements.
As of 2012, 45 new collective agreements had been signed at national level, 42 amendments registered, and 154 agreements were in force. There is no county level data, however it is estimated that between 650 and 700 agreements are in force (around 80 per cent of all CAs).
Collective agreements can cover a wide range of topics. However, they often simply reproduce the legal provisions (not going beyond this). Eurofound noted that they mostly deal with pay-related issues and working time. Issues such as training, life-long learning, and health have not been well covered in agreements.
The ILO noted in its 2007 study that very little attention is devoted to questions connected with safety and health protection. The agreements only call for compliance with the OSH Law, mirroring some of its regulations. In two agreements, an additional special insurance is established for workers in risky workplaces.
There are no official statistics on the proportion of workplaces that have union representation and/or works councils. However, The Friedrich Ebert Foundation quotes a recent survey of 530 companies (with more than 20 employees) that found that 45% had works councils. One of the unions noted some indications that workplace representation is moving away from works councils towards union representatives. A Eurofound study found that 90-100% of larger companies had works councils, while the percentage in smaller companies is as low as 20-50%. The study also indicated that it is common for trade unions to take over the function of works councils.
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation noted in their 2012 study that there is little research on the work of workers’ representatives. Trade union research was carried out only by the SSSH/UATUC: independently in 1997, and in 2010/2011 and in 2011/2012 within the framework of an international trade union project INFORMIA and INFORMIA 2.
The INFORMIA project is funded by the DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of the EC and promoted by the Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB). Its aim is to carry out surveys of how information and consultation rights are implemented in project partner countries - Bulgaria, Italy, France, Ireland and Croatia.
An INFORMIA project publication from May 2010 on Croatia concluded that there was no systematic information available about the number of established works councils or the election results.  However in 1997 the Croatian trade union confederation SSSH conducted a more thorough survey among works councils. 522 works councils completed the questionnaire on their size, composition, working conditions and activities. Only a preliminary analysis of the results was carried out, showing that:
- 25% of participating works councils reported bad working conditions,
- 30% stated that the employer had a bad relationship with the works council and did not respect the legal provisions on information and consultation,
- 48.7% stated that the employer did not regularly inform workers
- 8.7% claimed the employer did not fulfil its information and consultation obligations at all
- 11% of the works councils had initiated court proceedings against an employer
- 73.3% claimed to regularly learn in advance of trade union positions on the issues to be discussed (18.4% occasionally, 6.5% never),
- 51.3% stated they regularly inform workers on their activities; 40.6% occasionally.
- 6.7% reported utilising the right granted by the Labour Code to organise at least three general workers’ assemblies during one and a half year period following the elections
- among those that organised less assemblies or no assembly, 2.1% reported they were not able to acquire permission from the employer, while 1.7% reported lack of trade union support as a reason
- 61.5% of works councils took part in training, while 3.3% said participation in training activities was not allowed by the employer
- 57.9% considered this initial period of works councils’ existence as a good start
- 10.7% judged the councils to be a completely useless instrument.
The INFORMIA survey consisted of written and oral interviews with key experts on information and consultation on trade union and employers’ side, including national level industry organisations for construction, metal and tourism. The authors of the report concluded that the Croatian national framework for information and consultation of workers provides a higher level of workers’ protection than required under EU law. Works councils (and the relationship with employers) have a long tradition and are well accepted, although negative attitudes are common on both the side of employer and staff.
The main problem found by INFORMIA is the weak enforcement of the law, due to the capacity of Croatian labour inspection and the slow pace of the judiciary system. While employers in general respect co-determination procedures, only around 30-35% of them fully respect all information and consultation obligations.
Another finding was that branch unions increasingly organise training for their members in works councils. Further efforts in this direction are needed, as well as systematic work with established works councils on behalf of sector unions, but the staff capacities of the unions in this respect are often limited.
Eurofound’s Industrial Relations Observatory identified a ‘lack of competence’ as a problem for all types of representatives, including trade unions. It is seen as an obstacle to the full advantages of workplace representation.  The Eurofound opinion poll among Croatians workers on how employees can influence work organisation revealed that Croatia (43%) is well below the EU27 average (58%).
Direct participation can be a) in the form of a general workers’ assembly (which must be held twice a year) to inform workers and allow discussions on the situation and development of the company, and b) via the activity of the works council (where applicable). The establishment of the general workers’ assembly does not depend on the number of workers employed.
This important workers’ right seems to be poorly utilised, however, as the above-mentioned INORMIA report notes:
- 6.7% out of 522 works councils answering a questionnaire reported they utilised the right granted by the Labour Code and organised at least three general workers’ assemblies during one and a half year period following the elections,
- among those that organised less assemblies or no assembly, 2.1% reported they were not able to acquire permission from the employer, while 1.7% reported lack of trade union support as a reason.
No information is available from those companies that do not have a works council, but it can be assumed that the figures are worse.
The trade unions in Croatia have a rather strong position because of a relatively high union density, no major political differences, the reversed fragmentation trend, and easy access to private and public companies. However, unions appear to have lost members in recent years, which may be due to their position being significantly weakened in privatised and newly established companies,.
The biggest problem identified by Eurofound's Industrial Relations Observatory is the lack of competence among representatives. However, it seems that the unions have reacted and increased their efforts in raising awareness and offering courses. These efforts will certainly improve worker participation and, in turn, the OSH situation.
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