At yesterday press conference, Prime Minister Janez Janša, Minister of Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Aleksandra Pivec, Minister of Finance Andrej Šircelj and Expert Advisory Group Coordinator Matej Lahovnik presented a package of measures to help the population and the economy, the so-called anti-corona package discussed at the Government’s evening session yesterday.
The Prime Minister said that the Government had discussed and laid down the guidelines and measures for drafting a mega-act legislative package aimed at mitigating the future impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic on both citizens and the economy.
In his introduction, Prime Minister Janez Janša pointed out that the Government had adopted measures to preserve jobs. “Firstly, a new regime of co-financing wages for temporarily laid-off workers will be established,” said the Prime Minister. “All contributions for temporarily laid-off employees in the following two months – from entry into force to 31 May 2020 with the possibility of an extension if the situation continues – that must be paid into both the healthcare and pension insurance schemes will be covered by the state, and the insured persons’ rights will be preserved. Sick pay for all workers during the epidemic from the first day onwards will be covered by the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia, not the employer.” Persons employed and activated in sectors that are key in overcoming the epidemic will be rewarded with an increase in their basic salary by between 10% and 200%, based on the decision of their superiors, in the form of hazard pay and higher workload bonuses.
“We have laid out measures aimed at improving people’s social situation, particularly that of older pensioners with low pensions who are also the biggest target of this epidemic,” said the Prime Minister, adding that pensioners with the lowest pensions will receive a solidarity bonus due to the impact of the coronavirus. “They are the most vulnerable group of citizens. As many of them are alone and have spent their income on stocking up on essential food and other basic necessities, they will receive a special bonus,” said Mr Janša.
“The status of workers who are unable to work due to force majeure, caring for children and their inability to come to work and other epidemic-related reasons will be equal to that of temporarily laid-off workers. Workers who have lost their job during the epidemic will automatically be entitled to unemployment benefits,” said the Prime Minister, adding that households and individuals will also not be required to pay for public services that are not being provided, meaning that they will therefore not receive bills for these services.
The Prime Minister of Slovenia said that a number of guidelines for drafting measures to help self-employed workers were also adopted yesterday. “All self-employed workers who submit a statement via a special application indicating that they have been particularly affected by the crisis will be entitled to receive emergency assistance. This statement will be publicly available. Self-employed workers who are unable to operate due to the crisis or whose operations have been significantly reduced will be entitled to a monthly basic income in the amount of 70% of the net minimum wage,” said Mr Janša. He went on to say that affected self-employed workers will be exempt from the payment of contributions during this time. “Contributions to the healthcare and pension insurance schemes during this time will be paid on their behalf by the state, and the insured persons’ rights and scheme receipts will be preserved. The amount of contributions for the crisis year will be determined based on the reported profit after the year-end. The prepayment of income taxes will be postponed to the 2020 income tax assessment,” said the Prime Minister.
He then stressed that the Government had also taken a series of measures to keep businesses in operation: “All pension insurance contributions for employees who remain in the workplace will be paid by the Government during this period, while the rights of the insured and the income will be maintained.”
We have taken steps to improve the liquidity of businesses and provide support for research projects to fight the epidemic. “With the aim of ensuring liquidity, a guarantee scheme – called a “financial cannon”– will be established and the purchase of trade debt from Slovenian businesses will be provided. In addition, the Government will provide sufficient funds through capital increase or performance guarantees. The prepayment of corporate income tax and the payment of self-employment income tax will be suspended. Payment deadlines for payments to private suppliers from public funds will be reduced to 8 days.Part of the unused funds from the European Social Fund (ESF) will be channelled into helping businesses and institutions engaged in research and development of, for example, vaccines, medicines and protective equipment, to manage the effects of the coronavirus,” highlighted Mr Janša.
“All meeting fees and other remuneration received by members of the supervisory boards of directly or indirectly majority state-owned companies will be reduced by 30%. Wages of all high officials at the national level will be reduced by 30% for the duration of the epidemic. Pursuant to the Constitutional Court’s decision, the judicial branch is exempt from this law, but those receiving a high official’s wage have been called upon to give up 30% of their wage for the duration of the crisis. Because urgent proceedings to protect fundamental human rights under the constitution must continue, the people in this branch and others who work in this situation fall into the category of those who will receive additional pay,” said the Prime Minister with regard to the reduction of meeting fees and wages.
He added that the Government had also adopted a number of guidelines for designing measures to assist agriculture. “Let me emphasise that self-sufficiency in food production in this situation, which could last for quite some time, is of strategic importance, therefore we will do our best to help farmers and agriculture with the same or proportionally the same measures as those adopted for the rest of the economy,” said Mr Janša.
“We also recommend that employers in the private sector take a similar approach to rewarding those at risk due to the effects of the epidemic, i.e. employers should establish a model based on the existing legislation and regulatory solutions that will be included in this package and will apply primarily to the public sector. We, therefore, recommend that the wages of private sector employees be increased by 10–200%, especially those who are at risk, maintain production and critical infrastructure, because not all of it is state-owned. These payments will be reimbursed by the Government and from the budget once the information on the current or future possible volume of payments is known,” added Mr Janša.
According to the Prime Minister, all ministries must submit these measures and some others, which he did not mention and are of a technical nature but are part of this law, to the Government Office for Legislation by Thursday, as on Friday the Government will discuss the draft of this mega legislative package.
Furthermore, the basic content and purpose of this anti-corona legislative package is to “suspend the existing situation in such a way as to preserve people, jobs, economic capacity, scientific and cultural capacities, capacities of the state and society in general, so that everything will be able to function normally after the threat of the epidemic has been successfully overcome”.
The Prime Minister also pointed out that, around the world, much effort is being invested in the production of vaccines and medicines and in testing medicines that mitigate the effects of coronavirus infection, adding that the results are promising. “Until then, we have to endure, but not only that, we will have to be in such a good shape that we as a society will be able to continue to function normally,” said the Prime Minister, drawing parallels to journeying on a spacecraft. “Imagine that we as the passengers are in stasis so that when we land somewhere, we can function normally. The proposed measures will be aimed at suspending the current situation and maintaining it without major social and other consequences for the duration of the epidemic,” said Mr Janša, adding that the Government would provide all the necessary financial resources. “The European financial framework is expanding every day, and for the period covered by this law, the resources provided are sufficient,” he said.
According to Mr Janša, the Government has already started to bring together the necessary components to set guidelines for the second such maxi package. “Many of the proposals we have received are of such a nature that they need to be examined, and all the proposals that will be contained in the next package will be duly studied when we receive the financial and other calculations,” said Mr Janša.
He also pointed out that during this time, the Government has received over 1,000 different proposals and initiatives from the economic sector, trade unions, associations, individuals, scientific and research institutions, and universities and faculties. “I would like to sincerely thank everyone for their contributions. I estimate that around 90% of the proposals received were taken into consideration, because the vast majority were along the same lines. However, some of them need more time to be studied properly and will thus have the chance to be included in the next maxi package,” said Mr Janša.
The Slovenian Prime Minister also thanked his colleagues from individual ministries for the remarkable effort invested in the drafting of guidelines. “I would like to give special thanks to the group of experts headed by Dr Matej Lahovnik. With their help, we have resolved many of the dilemmas in the proposals of these measures, we have also looked at what has happened in neighbouring and other European countries and around the world, and this assistance has been invaluable. Nobody asked to participate turned down the opportunity to cooperate,” said Mr Janša, adding that our compatriots who work in various institutions around the world have also offered to work with the Government and will be included in its work.
“Tonight, a government session will be held on the topic of the first comprehensive assessment of measures, including other than just those I have already spoken about, to slow down and stem the spread of the epidemic,” announced the Prime Minister. He added that in the week following the Government’s taking of the oath, they have already got a grasp of the situation, including the realistic assessments of the development of the situation concerning the spread of the epidemic, and the assessment of the capacity building options. “We will present this tomorrow when the Government takes note of the reports submitted by the competent authorities,” announced the Prime Minister.
Finally, he also thanked everyone who observed and adhered to the measures in place. “Today there is probably no one who is aware of the situation in other European countries who still thinks that taking action is unnecessary. The latest figures show that the measures in place have been generally complied with. Thank you all for your cooperation. No decree, no ban and no law can do more than we can do ourselves by following the instructions of doctors and professionals, but also through self-initiative and action in every possible way, with the aim of protecting ourselves and protecting others,” stressed Prime Minister Janša.
“If we continue to take things seriously and maintain a responsible behaviour in compliance with all the rules, then the tightening of the measures that we can see in other countries which responded to the situation a week later than us will not have to be introduced in Slovenia. However, the Government will assess what still needs to be done in the present situation regarding our actions and behaviour,” said Mr Janša, concluding that Slovenia has been addressing the risks of the epidemic very seriously in recent days and concluded, “If we continue along this path, the final price will also be significantly lower than the one we all feared at the beginning.”
When asked by journalists about how long schools would remain closed, Prime Minister Janša said that is impossible to predict at the moment how long this measure will be in place, but was pleased that distance learning has been set up, “so that significantly less time will be lost that we feared in the beginning”. “As far as other restrictive measures are concerned, the Government has not declared a state of emergency, nor did it propose to the National Assembly to do so. Currently, all action is taken pursuant to the act governing communicable diseases. However, there is a lively debate as to whether this framework should be expanded,” said Mr Janša. He also called attention to a public procurement measure that, at this point in time, is an obstacle to rapid action, so he proposed “that the threshold values for the application of the Public Procurement Act in the case of goods and services should be increased to EUR 40,000, and in the case of construction services, to EUR 80,000, and that municipalities should be free to carry out public procurement independently”.