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ponedeljek, 18 januarja, 2021

Parliamentary committees clear first emergency bills

Ljubljana – Parliamentary committees backed ahead of Thursday’s emergency plenary the first set of bills aimed at mitigating the coronavirus crisis. The measures include pay compensation for temporary lay-offs and trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. Notably, amendments were adopted that expand the temporary aid to the self-employed.

The bill providing pay compensation for temporary lay-offs extends state aid to companies that will need to temporarily lay off at least 30% of their workforce due to disruptions in supply or a drop in demand.

Labour, Family, social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Janez Cigler Kralj told the committee the goal was to preserve as many jobs as possible and that additional measures would probably follow. The costs of the bill are estimated at EUR 50 million.

Temporarily laid-off workers will be entitled to 80% of their wage average from the past three months, with the employers having to cover 60% of this sum and the state 40%. The maximum temporary lay-off period will be three months, employers will able to use the state aid only once and for three consecutive months at the most.

Aid will also be provided in cases of workers unable to work as a result of self-isolation, but the state will cover the full 80% for such instances.

Employers who are tax debtors, have violated labour legislation or are undergoing insolvency proceedings will not be able to apply.

Notably, the committee adopted a number of amendments, including one that expands the scheme to self-employed workers. These will also be able to defer their social contribution payments for the coming three months by up to two years.

The members of the Committee for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and the Disabled disagreed on whether to write a part of these payments off and a number of articles were left open for potential change at the plenary.

The amendments were adopted after pressure mounted in recent days to also help the self-employed. The initiatives included a petition, signed by several thousand people, which stated that the 106,000 self-employed in country, accounting for 10.8% of the active population, cannot carry the entire burden of the crisis. They contribute at least EUR 508 million a year in social contributions alone.

Meanwhile, also endorsed today were emergency measures for agriculture and food products, meat and wood products. The idea is to restrict trade with agricultural produce, food products and livestock and poultry to ensure sufficient food supplies in the country.

The bill allows the minister, in consent with the economy minister, to impose restrictions or bans on exports or imports of individual products or groups of products to or from other countries. It also gives the minister the power to cap prices of certain foodstuffs.

Agriculture, Food and Forestry Minister Aleksandra Pivec said the situation called for the consideration of all eventualities and pointed out that the state’s food reserves will be expanded in a measure worth EUR 28 million.

While it could happen that producers closing shop abroad could mean certain products disappearing from the shelves, Pivec said “we can assure you that food safety will not be in peril under any scenario”.

On the proposal of mayors, the Agriculture Ministry would also be able to appoint interim administrator of a farm if the farmers or employees on the farm were unable to work due to the effects of coronavirus.

The bill, adopted by the Agriculture, Food and Forestry Committee unanimously, moreover provides for the creation of temporary storage facilities in case of a surplus of goods due to disruption in exports in existing warehouses.

The minister would also get the power to impose restrictions and bans on imports of wood, wood chips and pellets from other countries.

The third committee in session today was the Judiciary Committee, which voted in favour of suspending all timelines in court and non-urgent administrative proceedings for the duration of the epidemic.

One of the measures also involves a one-month suspension of prison sentences in cases without safety risks as well the option of early release from prison. The suspension of administrative timelines also applies for those with pending prison time.

All three bills are excepted to be confirmed by the National Assembly on Thursday and enter into force on Friday.

The bills are unlikely to be challenged by the the National Council, the upper chamber, which indicated today it would eschew vetoing emergency law. It will use the option to okay them in a fast-track procedure that eliminates the usual eight-day frame the upper chamber has for a veto vote.

A number of other major measures are in the pipeline and at least two are likely to already be passed at the Thursday’s plenary as well.

These include a bill that reduces the administrative and tax burdens on companies affected, while it also effectively waives the government’s duty to submit a supplementary budget before redirecting funds appropriated for other purposes.

Another is a bill, adopted by the government today, which allows business, co-operatives, farmers and self-employed to ask banks for a 12-month deferral of credit payments.

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