Just before the first wave of the corona-crisis, the Slovenian centrist government resigned, confident they were heading towards early elections. Unexpectedly, the parties that before the election claimed they would never form a coalition with the right-wing government of Janez Janša did just that. Since March, in addition to a poorly managed health crisis (unpreparedness for the second wave, currently resulting in a second complete lockdown, which this time also includes curfew) and poor measures taken to save the economy and help the citizens, we have also been witnessing attacks on artists and cultural workers, a complete blockage of Slovenian film, around 400 replacements of managers, including in cultural institutions, and positioning “their own”, an attempt to take over public radio and television, repossessing (subsidised) premises that important cultural NGOs currently use, threats, bullying and hate speech in social media…
Each package of anti-corona legislation the government has proposed, has included, under the guise of fighting the virus, measures that are completely irrelevant to the epidemic and merely curtail human rights and civic liberties.
The situation of self-employed workers in culture
When in early March all events were cancelled and AV production shut down, workers in culture found themselves in a more difficult situation than the one faced by salaried workers: the first anti-corona measures package, passed in late March, paid little to no attention to self- employed workers, not just in culture, but self-employed in general. A lot of organising and pressure forced the government to pass measures that provided all self-employed in Slovenia with a possibility to apply for aid that consisted of paid social security contributions (roughly 400 Euros per month) and a flat monthly income of 700 Euros per month. The first version of the legislation ignored the cyclical nature of some professions (it required the self-employed show a decrease of 25% in March 2020 and 50% in April and May in regard to February 2020) and it took several weeks of “negotiations” to change that to an anticipated 10% decrease in regards to 2019.
While this was most welcome, we cannot overlook two major issues, which have been a constant in this government’s dealing with the crisis: unnecessary stress placed on the most vulnerable segment of the working population, as many could not apply for help until late April, and the haphazard way of this government dealing with every single aspect of the 2020 pandemic, from health issues to economic issues, to basic communication.
The self-employed workers in Slovenia (of which workers in culture are a tiny minority) have the right to aid for October, November and December (1100 € per month) providing their income decreased by 20% in comparison to 2019. While this sounds good, it took a lot of pressure to reduce the drop from 30% to 20%, and many workers in culture will still not meet the criterion, mostly those who earned very little in 2019 already (either due to illness, a “poor year” or having the misfortune of spending parts of 2019 out of work or working through early stages of a project that would normally pay in 2020 or 2021 – for example, researching for a book, or writing a script on spec). There is a real danger that many will spend the next 12-18 months in poverty, or abandon arts altogether.
Workers in culture were the first to be worried when the government changed back in March, and for a good reason: the current government, and the current minister of culture, are the same that were in power between 2004 and 2008 and the experience was not positive. It hasn’t changed: the first thing the ministry did to cope with the pandemic was to order Slovenian Book Agency to stop paying monies from the public lending rights, which are due every spring. It was only after protests from the community that authors and translators were told that they “misunderstood” and the money was transferred. This has become a pattern for the interaction between workers in culture (organised in an informal group, as they, being their own employers, have no right to form a union) and the secretary at the ministry. In the already exhausting and uncertain situation – we are currently experiencing the second complete lockdown, and it is not at all certain that workers in performing arts and events industry will go back to work any time soon – such dealings are extremely draining. There have been so many mishaps – minister not signing documentation that would define individuals’ social security status and payments, review of such documents already signed “just because”, planning to change the number and structure of project approving commissions to make them “cheaper” and “more responsive”, withholding funding to the entire AV industry, not working with the performing arts community in defining the health protocols that had to be followed for events during the opening in the summer … – that the community is not optimistic about its situation for the future.
The unions asked the Minister of Culture to immediately formulate technical, systematic, long- term and uniform guidelines, adapted specifically for different types of cultural institutions, taking into account who the programs or events are intended for. They also drew attention to the situation of employees and precarious workers in culture, as an alarmingly large proportion of them found themselves in an unenviable position, on the brink (if not below the brink) of survival – not only themselves but also their families. However, the minister refuses any talks with employee representatives, ignores all calls for solutions and does not even recognize representative unions as partners in resolving the extremely difficult situation of culture and people.
Since May 2020, the Slovenian Film Centre, a public agency of the Republic of Slovenia, has been experiencing dire administrative difficulties in allocating financial support to film projects that are required to get government approval at the highest level. The Slovenian Government has been blocking the majority of financial state budget transfers intended for the Slovenian Film Centre. This has resulted in an effective shutdown of the vast majority of the film production planned for 2020, while most of pre-production and production for the next couple of years has been put on hold. The severity of the situation is so dramatic that the survival of the entire ecosystem of the Slovenian film and audiovisual industry is now seriously jeopardized. As a consequence, most freelance film professionals have not been paid for work completed since November 2019 and are facing grim mid-term unemployment, while their chances to slip into poverty have increased drastically due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. It is worth mentioning that since the inception of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Slovenian government has failed to make any specific relief funds or programmes available to protect its audiovisual industry. Film workers regularly and in detail inform the domestic and foreign public about the situation. The result of this endeavour is a joint statement by European film organizations, co-signed by FIA, for which we’re grateful on behalf of all filmmakers.
Despite the unenviable situation, the AV associations are intensively drawing the attention of the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology to the urgent and earliest implementation of EU Directives and the ratification of the Beijing Treaty. A great achievement is the signing of an agreement between the associations of producers, co-authors and performers to jointly tackle the changes to Copyright and Related Rights Act (ZASP) in favour of all three branches.
In July, the Ministry of Culture published three draft laws that, if approved, will fundamentally change the media landscape. In addition to the amendments to the Radio and Television of Slovenia Act (ZRTVS-1), the Ministry of Culture also prepared amendments to the Media Act (ZMed) and the Slovenian Press Agency Act (ZSTAgen). The proposed changes are not small or insignificant, but radically affect the management and funding of both public service broadcasters. By amending the SPA Act, the government is taking control of the appointment of key people in the agency, thus opening the door to political influence on the media’s editorial policy. The RTV Slovenia Act transfers the financing of the public interest from the budget directly to citizens through a part of the RTV contribution. The Ministry is thus proposing the financial destabilization of the public media, which will have a direct impact on the production of content, the dismissal of journalists and other program workers and the consequent reduction in the quality of services provided by RTV Slovenia. The state is thus relieved of its financial responsibility for financing media content in the public interest, while maintaining or increasing control over media production. Initially, the Ministry of Culture put the proposal up for public discussion for only a few days, because of the furious response of the public as well as coalition partners, it was extended until the end of August. The bill has not yet been discussed by the Parliament.
Activities of ZDUS – SADA
In the beginning of 2020, ZDUS has joined other arts’ associations to offer the government a set of coordinated recommendations for self-employed artists and create conditions and opportunities which would allow them to have a career dynamic as similar as possible to the one available to workers in long-time employment. We formulated a list of specific suggestions, however, when the government was dissolved, our activities were put on hold. At the meeting of ZDUS president with current Minister of Culture in April all commitments of the previous Minister, namely the regulation of the position of the self-employed, a start-up of a health dispensary, solution of the problem of overproduction of public theatres, co-financing of professional associations/guilds and official recognition of ZDUS as the umbrella organization of employees in the performing arts, were firmly rejected. There is no dialogue with the Ministry of Culture, despite our numerous letters to the Government, the Ministry and the National Assembly. The official and published commitment of the ministry is that theatrical public institutions will still be 100% funded. The “cultural Euro” has not yet been confirmed. In addition to our regular activity there has been a lot of work with advocacy, initiatives and petitions, also in cooperation with trade unions and other associations, but with no response. We called on theatre managers to give work to the self-employed, but they did not choose to do so. The number of projects in theatre public institutions did not adapt to the new situation. Theatres continue the practice of overproduction, which can deplete employees under the guise of special conditions. ZDUS has prepared recommendations on the operation of theatres in special circumstances of the epidemic for employers and employees. We participated in the design of the program of the National Maribor Theater Festival, this year with a round table on the topic of precarious workers in the face of the epidemic, which has unfortunately been cancelled due to the ban on events. We regularly and simultaneously respond to the measures and activities of the Government and government services that affect employees, as well as the live performance field. We publicly support the preservation of public service broadcasting. We organized our own art program: a stage reading of new plays and our own theatrical production. We have intensively connected and cooperated with associations working in the field of culture. We recorded and connected authors in the field of play-writing, identified obstacles in their work and formulated plans how to overcome them collectively. We have represented playwrights in a few concrete cases, particularly in the area of reconciling contractual obligations and fees.
Ljubljana, 18. 11. 2020