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An assessment of Slovene experience
Slovenia has been going through the formation of a new national economy, with all the required mechanisms, at the same time as it makes the transition from a socialist economy to a market economy. The second transformation may be somewhat easier for Slovenia than for some other central and east European countries, since the Yugoslavian self-management system was closer to the market system than state planning. Companies, especially in Slovenia, had considerable independence in their business decisions and already had some direct contacts with foreign partners. This made them much more open to western styles of management and production organization.
Many companies also have long-term cooperation agreements with foreign companies and have therefore been part of an international chain of production. This has exposed them continuously to new technology. The current failure to incorporate information technology in manufacturing on a larger scale is not due to any lack of unawareness of the impact such technology could have on productivity and quality, but rather to the scarcity of financial resources.
The use of information technology in manufacturing in Slovenia is determined primarily by the availability of resources and by the export orientation of the specific manufacturing company. Even from the limited sample in this study, it can be concluded that information technology has usually been introduced in companies with a strong export orientation. The motivation was not 'internal', indeed the last reason for introducing new technology would be to save on labour costs. But there was a demand for quality products, which could not be met without information technology.
Slovenia's aim of rapid integration in the international marketplace is shared by many other ax-socialist countries. Their domestic markets have low purchasing power and the formerly well-developed trade within COMECON (the economic association of communist countries) has crumbled. They are therefore turning to the west: aiming at the developed countries of western Europe first, and then also at all other developed markets. The possibilities of competing on the basis of inexpensive labour only are very limited, because of the quality requirements in developed markets. It is thus to be expected that there will be a dynamic escalation of information technology in all export-oriented sectors and companies, and especially in those companies where foreign capital is involved. One purpose of the active promotion of direct foreign investment by the governments in ax-socialist countries is to secure the necessary financial resources for the modernization of the manufacturing sector.
In the Slovene case the sectors or companies in which there has been direct foreign investment, or long-term cooperation contracts or subcontracting, have been much quicker to use information technology than those concentrating on the domestic market (or the ex-Yugoslav market). These export-oriented companies have fared the best. Although modernization, both technical and organizational, has been a long-term process, they were better fitted to deal with the changed circumstances and the drastic loss of the Yugoslav market. They have been able to find additional export markets in a relatively short time, and have had to reduce their workforces less sharply than companies focusing on the domestic market. Domestically orientated companies found that their type and quality of production was not suitable to the developed markets. Their workforces were usually less qualified and therefore more difficult to retrain and, most important, they lacked the financial resources for technological modernization.
This is certainly something other central and eastern European countries are likely to face or are already facing. The modernization of their manufacturing sectors will be determined by the availability of financial resources from either direct foreign investment or foreign aid. This will of course change labour relationships as well. Work, which was once a common right in socialist societies, is already becoming a privilege. Even if the unemployment rates which have accompanied the transition to a market economy are not extreme in comparison to the developed market economies, the relatively short time span in which this phenomena has developed, and the poor support system for the unemployed, makes the situation dramatic.
Another characteristic of these labour markets has been the participation of women. Our analysis has shown that, in Slovenia, unemployment has no consequences specific to women, at least not at this stage. Even where large portions of the workforce are made redundant, the proportion of women in the remaining workforce did not change much. However, people with lower educational and qualification levels were hit harder, and will continue to lose their jobs first and have a harder time in finding new positions. Assuming that women's overall level of qualifications is lower, the increased introduction of new technologies could result in gender segregation of the redundant workers, with women being the first to go. Current evidence does not yet support this conclusion.
A more worrisome question raised by the Slovene example, is the entire approach to the technologically redundant workers. As shown, legislation does not differentiate between types of redundancy (economic or technological). Company managements also talk only in terms of redundancy, without ascribing any reason. The unions have no knowledge or experience in dealing with technology issues, which are left to technical management. The standard explanation of all sides is that, so far, technology has not been seen as the major reason for job redundancy or a major factor affecting working conditions.
Yet one cannot help wondering what is going to happen if the expected influx of foreign investment and the ongoing technological modernization is not matched by a greater understanding of its potential consequences for the workers. Are we to repeat all the mistakes the developed economies have made, or can we approach these issues in a more systematic manner? One fears that with the present extremely low status of workers8 in Slovenia, and probably in other ax-socialist countries as well, the negative consequences of the introduction of information technologies will not be averted. This would have serious implications for women workers.
What is needed if such developments are to be avoided is better knowledge of the way this process has developed in the western economies. The next step would then be to see how to adapt these lessons to the circumstances in the ax-socialist countries, and to try to mobilize various pressure groups, such as unions, women's organizations and various popular movements, to promote the issue of the quality of the work and the need to be aware of where technological modernization is taking us. These pressure groups are all relatively new: 'old' unions are trying to rehabilitate themselves, and the women's groups do not yet have a coherent and popular programme. These group's demands are much more a reflection of their party affiliation than the needs of their women workers. For example, the Women's Alliance of the Christian Democratic Party worries about traditional family values and fights abortion, while the student women's group fights for the rights of lesbians. The specific position of a woman as a worker is nobody's particular concern. This is exacerbated by the low participation of women in politics. Under the previous regime, equality was not a problem, at least officially, so it was considered that there was no need for a special 'women's policy'. Under the new regime, there are so many 'serious' problems that gender is again considered unimportant. As Barbara Einhorn shows in Cinderella goes to Market (Einhorn, 1993), this is a common feature of all ax-socialist countries.
The introduction of information technology is undoubtedly necessary in the Slovene and other ax-socialist economies, but we should approach this issue with an awareness of gender perspectives and with sufficient knowledge to eliminate its negative consequences for employment, for both women and men. The experiences of women workers in developed market economies and in some of the newly industrializing countries would be very relevant in this process.
1 Slovenia is gradually adopting the NACE (Nomenclature statistique des activités économiques dans la communauté européene) standard in its statistics, but not all the figures are yet available in this classification, so it has been necessary to use the old National Classification of Economic Activities.
2 Night employment is regulated, and mothers and pregnant women are prevented from undertaking night work and jobs which could be detrimental to their health. Slovene legislation allows twelve months of paid maternity leave: in the first six months after a birth either of the parents can decide to stay home with the child. There are also special provisions for single mothers (prolonged maternity leave), for twins or children with disabilities. Fathers seldom take paternal leave. The traditional perception is that mothers should undertake most of the parental obligations when a child is very young.
3 In 1993, 48 per cent of the workforce were women, and 44.2 per cent of the unemployed were women.
4 In 1992, employment in the business sector declined by more than 9 per cent. In the private sector, employment and self-employment increased by 8 per cent, but in absolute figures this meant only 4,800 new jobs. According to statistics from the Agency for Employment, the unemployment rate in September 1993 was 14.6 per cent. Some 44.1 per cent of all registered unemployed as of October 1993 were women, of whom 39.7 per cent were under 26 years old and 22 per cent had never had a job.
5 Since then, some data on information technology has been collected, but only for manufacturing sectors which employ few women workers (metal pro cessing, machine building). The rate of introduction of new technologies was very low in these as well.
6 This is partly the result of the loss of ex-Yugoslav markets, but is to a large extent also the reflection of the collapse of a giant corporation, ISKRA, which disintegrated in 1991, with various units going bankrupt. The chemical processing industry has problems both on the supply side and in demand. Much of its raw material was coming from other parts of ax-Yugoslavia, and its major markets were in East and Central Europe, which are themselves experiencing serious crises.
7 All tables are compiled by the author from various official publications of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia.
8 The transition phase is characterized by poor protection of labour rights: previous legislation provided a very high level of protection and has therefore been nullified in the process of market reforms, and new legislation is still not fully in place. The pool of unemployed also exerts sufficient pressure for those still having a job not to 'rock the boat'.
Duhovnik, J., P. Stanovnik, and G. Stani( (1988), Racunalniko podprto konstruiranje, Ljubljana, Institute of Economic Research
Einhorn, Barbara ( 1993), Cinderella Goes to Market, London, Verso
Stanovnik, P., and B. Kutin (1989), Ekonomski vidiki robotizacije, Ljubljana, IER
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