What is going on?
According to Employment Code, providing meal plans (catering) to employees is one of the employer’s main obligations. Currently, the values of meal contributions per employee are divided into three categories. It is EUR 5.10 per day when the working hours range from 5 to 12 hours, EUR 7.60 per day when they range from 12 and 18 hours and, if they exceed 18 hours, an employee is entitled to EUR 11.60 per day.
Even though the law clearly sets the rules and explicitly talks about the employer being obliged to pay for employees’ catering, many people believe in the idea that meal vouchers are just a bonus to their salary. In reality, however, an employee pays 45% of a voucher’s value and an employer pays the remaining 55%. Besides that, an employer has to pay additional 3% to the issuer of the vouchers.
Why is it important?
Since the Employment Code explicitly mentioned meal vouchers, the state thus de facto created a monopoly. In 2016, Antimonopoly Office of the Slovak Republic issued a decision, in which it strongly spoke against the actions of some issuers of meal vouchers for violation of the competition rules and fined them more than EUR 3 million. Besides, critical opinions against meal vouchers have also been voiced from all sides – employers, employees, businesses, restaurants, and the general public. As mentioned above, an employer pays a fee of up to 3% of the voucher’s value to the voucher-issuing company; however, there is no similar provision in relation to the charges between the company and restaurants or supermarkets, which, in fact, do not receive the full amount and are, therefore, underpaid.
Here is an example to better illustrate the problem: if an employee pays EUR 4 for its meal in a restaurant, the restaurant is charged by a voucher-issuing company. Since there are no limits set out by the legislation, the percentage varies according to a restaurant’s bargaining power. Antimonopoly Office mentioned in its decision that, in some cases, this was as high as 80% of a voucher’s value.
What will happen next?
At the National Council’s last session, an amendment to Employment Code was approved, according to which employees will be able to choose between the two forms of their meal plans – they either keep vouchers or they opt for cash contributions, unless their employer provides them with a canteen. This change will not only improve the employees’ position, since they will be able to choose what they want, but will also weaken the monopoly that the voucher-issuing companies built up under the legislative regime that allowed them to do so.
The latest amendment has entered into force on 1 March 2021.
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