In 2022, the solo self-employment rate in Slovakia was approximately 12.2% of the working population (15-74), slightly above the European Union average (9.7%). Solo self-employed workers accounted for about 6.8% and 17.0% of the working population of women and men respectively, and they were almost 80.8% of total self-employed. In the period 2007-2022, there was a sharp expansion in the number of the self-employed without employees of approximately 39.7%. Such growth was mainly due to the increase of women self-employed and of self-employed workers aged over 50. The expansion of the solo self-employed has involved both high skilled professionals and low skilled positions like service and sales workers, as well as positions in agriculture. Estimates show that almost 15.5% of the solo-self-employed can be classified as economically dependent (i.e. self-employed workers who work mainly for one client and do not decide their working hours), a share almost three times higher than the European average (5.0%).

In Slovakia work can be performed in two ways, either as an employee with an employment contract or as a business activity, which requires that a civil or commercial legal relationship is established. In 2007, the amendment of the Slovak Labour Code introduced a legal definition of ‘dependent employment’ to prevent framing de facto dependent work as an independent contractor (self-employed). After that, the provision was changed twice (first by law 361/2012, and then by Act 14/2015) to enlarge the scope of the original definition. According to the latest version of the law, dependent work is carried out in a relationship in which the employer is the superior and the employee is subordinate, and work is performed personally, according to the employer’s instruction, and in the employer’s name during working time. Lacking these characteristics, the worker has to be framed as self-employed. As for access to social protection, there is no difference between standard employment and self-employment in terms of eligibility conditions for sickness, maternity/paternity, unemployment and social assistance benefits. However, whereas employees have to pay unemployment insurance contributions, self-employed workers pay them on a voluntary basis. As regards the pension system, eligibility conditions are the same for all working persons. The same applies as for the mechanism for calculating benefits level. However, self-employed workers who struggle to pay the minimum assessment base run a significant risk of receiving an inadequate pension once they retire.

As far as collective representation is concerned, different from all the other countries studied within the SHARE project, in Slovakia trade unions and employer organisations do not actively deal with the topic of solo self-employment, mainly because the Slovak industrial relations system is characterised by fragmentation and a lack of inter-organisational relations. However, both trade unions and other collective actors have begun to discuss and become interested in this subject. During the first fieldwork, the activities of the main trade union confederation KOZ – specifically Integrated Trade Union (IOZ), Trade Union KOVO, and UniJa – were analysed. Moreover, all the other organisations promoting claims of solo self-employed workers and trying to stimulate a debate about solo self-employment were included in the study, such as the Slovak Union of Tradesmen (SŽZ), the Slovak Chamber of Tradesmen (SŽK), which is the legal status of the majority of solo self-employed workers in Slovakia, the Slovak Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and Entrepreneurs (SAMP), and the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Slovakia (YEAS). Finally, the Foundation Nová Cvernovka (NC), the Association of Creative Workers (AK), Coworking Cvernovka, Connect Coworking, and the semi-public Slovak Business Agency were contacted.

In the second fieldwork, we focused on specific practices of organising based on the results of the first fieldwork. Specifically, we analysed the creation of the SŽZ campaign on solo self-employed workers’ occupational health and safety – a topic that in Slovakia is usually only associated with employees. Second, we analysed the YEAS mobile app, which served, among other things, as a tool to reach a very heterogeneous population of self-employed and small entrepreneurs. Third, we followed several groups of workers who were suing their employer because they were forced to work as bogus self-employed, a particularly widespread phenomenon in the Slovak context, as recorded in the first fieldwork. In addition, given the circumstances, we mapped the general response of employment relations’ actors to the covid crisis and its impact on solo self-employed workers.

While conducting the fieldwork in Slovakia, the researcher was hosted at the Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) in Bratislava.