LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The Slovenian parliament on Tuesday passed reform laws on banking and management of state firms that the government says are crucial to ensuring financial stability in the country which is struggling to avoid a bailout.
But Slovenia’s powerful trade unions are threatening to force a referendum on both laws, saying they could lead to a sell-off of state assets.
The first law would enable the establishment of a state company to take over bad debts of state-owned banks in exchange for state-guaranteed bonds, as a means of easing the credit crunch.
Slovenian banks, mostly state-owned, are nursing about 6.5 billion euros of bad loans, amounting to some 18 percent of GDP.
The parliament late on Tuesday also voted for the creation of a new state holding that would manage all state firms and speed up privatization.
The Slovenian economy is driven by exports of cars, household appliances and pharmaceutical products. It was badly hit by the global financial crisis and is now struggling with a new recession after a mild recovery in 2010 and 2011.
“The two laws passed today are an important part of structural reforms that are needed in Slovenia ... and any referendum on them would deepen the uncertainty in the country,” said Luka Flere of investment firm KD Skladi.
But trade unions opposing the reforms have said they would seek to trigger referendums, which under Slovenian law can be called by anyone who collects 40,000 signatures. Such a petition could easily be achieved by the unions, which are represented in most Slovenian workplaces.
Finance Minister Janez Sustersic said the government would continue talks with the unions in the hope of avoiding referendums that could delay or scupper reforms.
Last year a number of laws proposed by the previous center-left government were rejected at referendums, among them a crucial pension reform, which resulted in the fall of the government and a snap election that brought the conservative administration of Prime Minister Janez Jansa to power.
Last week Slovenia issued its first sovereign bond this year, a 10-year $2.25 billion bond at the yield of 5.7 percent. A similar issue in euros was postponed in April because of low demand.
Jansa told parliament on Monday the country would not be able to issue any more bonds in the future unless it passed reforms that would boost its credibility on the financial markets.
His government plans to raise the retirement age and ease regulations governing the hiring and firing of employees from the start of 2013. It also plans more cuts to public sector wages to bring the budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP next year from some 4.2 percent in 2012.
Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Rosalind Russell