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Small Businesses Threaten with Civil Disobedience (adds)

Ljubljana, 27 January (STA) - Small businesses will resort to civil disobedience unless legislative changes to improve conditions for business are adopted by mid-March. The Chamber of Trade Crafts and Small Business (OZS) said this after examining government proposals in response to their demands.

"We are staying in dialogue, the door remains open," chairman of the OZS management board Stefan Grosar told reporters in Ljubljana after Thursday's session, adding that a protest would be staged only if necessary.

As an example of civil disobedience businesses could resort to, Grosar quoted withdrawing money from bank accounts and refusal to pay contributions.

The OZS is satisfied with some of the government measures, especially those by the Finance Ministry, but says that many are still needed, in particular measures to tackle payment defaults, informal economy and labour legislation.

"The situation has reached boiling point," OZS chairman Stefan Pavlinjek said, adding that conditions for doing business in Slovenia were "unbearable". Some 11,000 small businesses closed and 36,000 jobs were lost in the past two years.

"It is not money which the trade craft and small business industry demands from the government, but rather a normal working environment, friendly legislation so that we know how we can do business in coming years and so we can plan assets and the needs for labour force," Grosar said.

Commenting on the government measures put forward, Grosar was critical of the Justice Ministry, which he said was "arrogantly rejecting" all demands, like the one for abolishing court-mandated debt restructuring in insolvency legislation and the proposal that an appeal would not always suspend debt enforcement.

If the OZS cannot reach a compromise with the Justice Ministry on the matter, it will turn to the prime minister, Grosar said.

The demand in labour legislation is for a platform that will determine minimum rights, while the rest should be subject to social dialogue between the employers and trade unions. "We demand the employment relationships act to be annulled by the year's end and a new one be drawn up."

Economy Minister Darja Radic expressed surprise at the OZS's threat to resort to civil disobedience, saying that "all discussions with the OZS leadership so far indicated we were going in the right direction...and most of the proposed solutions were hailed".

"No discussion we had with the OZS hinted at the possibility that there are still reasons for such drastic measures on their part," the minister said after the weekly government session, adding that she had heard small businesses were determined to go ahead with protests regardless of the government reaction.

Grosar denied this, saying that the OZS had decided nothing in advance, however it demanded not only promises, but also that legislation is passed in parliament.

In a stronger rhetoric Radic threatened that the OZS would be stripped of mandatory membership as she addressed a session of the management board of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS).

Radic noted that unlike the OZS, GZS did not have mandatory membership, but that the latest reactions by the chamber "have made me consider going in the direction of the GZS's proposal" for voluntary membership. "A bill to that effect is ready in my drawer."

Meanwhile, GZS general manager Samo Hribar Milic expressed concern about the possibility of social unrest given a continuation of given policies coupled with high unemployment. "I dare say that what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt could soon spill over here."

Hribar Milic also expressed concern about the OZS's call for civil disobedience, "fearing a situation in which one billion euros could go missing in our banking system tomorrow".

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