Unpaid Overtime in Serbia -
Threat to Workers’ Health and Privacy

10. September 2019  •572•    Further

In Serbia, the rules governing the overtime are very clear, but there is a wide gap between them and the everyday practice. All unions agree that employers (mostly in private companies) do not respect the law. This creates an additional problem to workers already exploited by low wages and non-payment of contributions. The situation in public sector and state administration is not much better, as the overtime is also usually not paid but compensated by the days-off.
The employees often complain about the fact that the number of working hours does not add up to the final amount of their wages – their work time has practically become unlimited! This is fully illegal as the Labour Law stipulates the overtime of maximum 8 hours a week and total of 175 hours a month. In addition, the price of every extra hour should be increased by 26%.
CATUS Secretary General, Mihailovic, is fully aware of the employers’ game. “Most often, they are ready to register the extra hours (without the 26% increase), but when it comes to taking the days-off, the workers are forced to write written requests which is also contrary to the law”, he explains.
The most serious abuse of overtime is to be found on construction sites, in hotels, restaurants and shops. The media coverage of the subject is sufficient, but it does not help much. The workers are afraid to speak of their problems openly and prefer forgetting their right to losing a job.
The unions are convinced that in spite of the eight-hour-week-limit and 600,000 to 1,5 million dinar (5.000 to 12.000 euros) fines, an average Serbian worker makes two to three extra hours per day. The official data have so far been unavailable, which postpones the solution of the problem and helps Serbian neoliberals proceed with their policy realized under the slogan “Invest in Serbia – country with the cheapest labour cost in Europe”. The foreign companies are not of great help, as they disrespect the Western standards here and follow those imposed by the domestic predators.

Minister Mali: “Minimum Wage Will Be
Increased by More than 10%”

9. September 2019  •571•    Further

The minimum wage in Serbia is not sufficient for a decent life, while the “freezing” of salaries in public sector has considerably increased the number of those who get it, said CATUS President Orbovic at the round table organised in our premises. “Around 350.000 workers receive that poor amount and together with generally low, stagnating wages, it is one of the reasons of migration of 50.000 youngsters who leave the country every year”, he explained and added that only by increasing the employees’ earnings it would be possible to keep the young experts at home. “It’s high time the Government changed its economic concept based on attracting foreign investments by making publicity of “cheap Serbian labour force”, concluded Orbovic.
In the last three years, the minimum wage has increased by 28.6%, i.e. round 9% a year, but the amount itself is still low. At the moment, only Albanian and Bulgarian minimum wages are lower than the Serbian. At the beginning, the idea was to help companies who ran into problems to get out of trouble, but only for a short span of time (six months). However, the payment of minimum wage has gradually become habitual for employers.
The Government has promised to increase the minimum wage by at least 10%. “There is no good economic justification for such an increase, but it can be justified by social and political reasons”, said Minister of Finance, Mali. He announced the final decision, which is to be taken at the session of the Social and Economic Council, on September 10. “It is important to keep the financial stability, but a 48.5 billion dinars surplus in the budget allows us to spend more on wage, pensions and the minimum wage increase, as well as to invest in infrastructure and education”, explained Mali.
In the negotiations preceding the final agreement, the unions – having in mind the social partners’ decision to gradually equalize the values of the minimum wage and the consumer’s basket - demanded a 20% increase, while the employers were ready to consent only to 5 to 6%. Nevertheless, the unions have said they were ready to support the employers’ claim on less taxes and contributions.

Serbian Pensioners: Our Spas
Are Not for Sale!

3. September 2019  •570•    Further

Association of Pensioners’ Trade Unions of Serbia – APTUS (a member of the CATUS) demands the abrogation of a decision taken by the national Pension and Disability Insurance Fund according to which famous spas in Kursumlija and Vranje are to be privatized. Besides, the Association has announced a lawsuit against the Fund as two spas are pensioners’ private property and Fund Administration Board (where the Government has the majority of votes) has no right to dispose of them. “Such property cannot be sold without a previous consent of its founders”, says Mihailo Radovic, President of the Association and adds that “although the Fund is not a public utility, the Government is treating it as such and trying to accomplish a classic robbery”.
After its foundation, the Fund was only in charge of administering the founders’ money and any attempt to dispose of it would be a pure trespass into the right of the others. The Association is convinced that in forthcoming privatization there are elements of corruption as the selling price is far under the sums that could be offered on the market and the Government gives the buyer a subsidy which is three times bigger than the very price! The Kursumlija spa is being sold at a price which is one million euros under the market price, and Vranjska spa for only 236,000 euros, as if it were just a ground with no buildings (which is not the case).
The lawsuit will be filed against the four (out of seven) members of the Administration Board and the Director.

Serbia Facing Serious Labour Shortage

28. August 2019  •569•    Further

The first symptoms are already appearing –you find kiosks, shops and restaurants covered with notices advertising free work places everywhere. The unions are convinced that the only way to solve the problem is the pay rise. The situation is alarming as in some supermarkets there are important departments completely lacking staff in the afternoon. Very often you see retirees maintaining roads – the young have left and the deadlines are to be respected.
At construction sites there are more and more workers coming from abroad, even from Albania and Turkey. Cooks and waiters who remained loyal to their hotels and restaurants are obliged to work all day long and seven days a week. The majority of their colleagues have already left for Croatia and Monte Negro, where they can earn twice as much. Very soon there will be no one to drive buses – only in the last few months Germany has issued 30.000 work permits to our co-nationals.
The only remedy would be the above mentioned pay-rise. The unionists easily prove that it’s hard to live with 250 euros a month and argue against the employers who claim that our economy is not ready yet to carry a burden of increased wages. It is one thing to raise salaries in the public sector, say the employers, and another to try to raise them in private companies which operate in line with the laws of the market. However, both sides agree that our Government is not fully aware of the problem and is not reacting promptly in a situation where only some urgent action could stop, or at least slow down, the dangerous negative trend.

Sebian Prime Minister:
There is a Plan for Coal-Mine Resavica

23. August 2019  •568•    Further

Our Government has planned to find strategic partners for companies that have been burdening the domestic budget for years – the same was already done with “giants” such as copper mines and furnaces in Bor, steel works in Smederevo and the milk manufacturing corporation in Belgrade. Some time ago, the IMF recommended closure of the mines, but according to our Prime Minister its 3500 workers don’t have to worry: they will not be dismissed until alternative jobs have been created. She mentioned a well prepared social program, which should temporarily solve at least some of the problems of the region, whose economy is in crisis and under heavy demographic pressure.
In the same interview, the Prime Minister also mentioned the bankruptcy of the fertilisers factory in Pancevo, saying that “the story was not over” and Petrochemistry Pancevo, where the Government – due to lack of a proper offer - is still looking for a strategic partner. “These companies are not a burden for our budget any more”, said Brnabic and added “they have stabilized their production and were covering the expenditures successfully”.
At the end, she said that the size of the budget will depend exclusively on the situation of the Serbian economy, about whose 3.5% growth she was rather optimistic.

Advantages and Disadvantages
of Foreign Investment in Serbia

20. August 2019  •567•    Further

Last year there were 107 foreign direct investments (FDI) in various sectors of the Serbian economy, mostly in manufacturing. It is one of the reasons why we were put at the first place on the “Financial times” list ranking countries according to the ratio between size of national economy and number of FDIs. The data recently published show that last year more than 40 new factories, production lines and distribution centres were opened, attracting 57% of the total number of SDIs in the region. Nowadays they amount to 38 billion euros or 80% of the country’s GDP!
Last year, foreigners invested around 3,2 billion euros, which - according to the Government and the employers - can be attributed mostly to macroeconomic and political stability. It’s interesting that Serbia managed to attract as much as 12 times more investments than the average expected from countries of that size. They were coming mostly from France (711 million euros), Hong-Kong (435 million), Netherlands (318 million), Germany (264 million) and Russia (237 million). The main investment areas were manufacturing (925 million euros), transport and storage (660 million), finance, construction and mining.
There are economists who ascribe this, besides to the above mentioned stability, also to developing infrastructure, quality work force and numerous industrial zones near big cities, where one can easily build and expand one’s production capacities. The effects for the country are highly positive, as the production, employment, wages, living standard and export are growing. It is quite possible that this year the FDIs will be larger than 2.5 billion euros and exceed even the amount registered in 2018.
However, calculating the quality of investments one has to see how much is the country really benefitting from them. It is logical that when you send a message to the investors saying that you will offer them more than the others, you will attract them, but you will get rather poor benefits, too. Very often, Serbian Government was too lenient towards foreigners and suffered serious losses thereby. Often, they were offered subventions for work force (already being inexpensive), free lend for construction, cheap electricity and other infrastructural facilities.
The economists agree that not everything in the country should belong to the foreigners and that our Government’s play with them has gone a bit too far. The absence of domestic employers’ interest in investing can be attributed to the salary increase in the public sector, which they ought to follow as well, but also to several hundred (!) taxes and contributions they must pay. Those are also the reasons which make our emigrants avoid investments in manufacturing and prefer consumption or real estate acquisitions.
In one word: through the privatisation the community was alienated from its property, which passed into the hands of those who pay some modest taxes to the Serbian Government and wages of 300 to 400 euros to the ex-owners, while sending the most of the profits to their accounts abroad.

Agency Work:
New Law Despite Unions’ Resistance

16. August 2019  •566•    Further

There is a general consensus among Serbian unions that the new law on agency work does not safeguard workers’ rights sufficiently. It’s true that agency workers will become “visible”, have the same work time and receive same wages as those who work with contracts for an indefinite time, but there is still a possibility that their temporary status might last “forever”.
The Government didn’t accept the unions’ idea of a bank guarantee as a condition necessary for the establishment of an employment agency, although the unionists were convinced it would help secure the payment of remaining salaries in the case of an agency default. A compensation offered by the legislator is the possibility of salaries being paid by the company to which the workers were hired out.
Besides the introduction of the principle “equal wages for equal work”, there is another positive innovation: the explicit recognition of the agency workers’ right to organize in unions and participate in strikes. In line with this, when determining the representativeness of company trade unions and its ability to negotiate with the management, the agency workers are to be considered a part of the total work force. However, having in mind the fact that companies can easily cancel their contracts with employment agencies, it’s hard to believe that agency workers will be able to enjoy these rights effectively.
When dealing with hired workers, the employers will have to respect general rules governing the work time (40 hours per week) and breaks (30 minutes within a six hour period). Over-time cannot be longer than 8 hours a week, nor a worker can work more than 12 hours a day. The agency workers will also be granted a paid leave of at least 20 days a year.

IMF says 'Speed up the Reform of Salary System'

2. August 2019  •565•    Further

Salary system reform represented a step towards the rationalization of the public sector, stated the IMF Resident Representative in Serbia, Sebastian Sosa, and added that the IMF welcomed a pay rise in Serbia which started at the beginning of this year both in public and private sector. He told the press that the salary reform in the public sector had been going on for years, it should have been done long time ago and the authorities in Serbia were planning to enforce the new salary system during 2020 when the assessment of fiscal implications had been completed.
Asked about the gap between the salaries in the public and private sector, Sosa replied that from January to April salaries were increased by 10% on average.
"This increase occurred both in private and public sector and we welcomed it", he emphasized and mentioned the salaries in public sector were higher than in the private. Private sector, according to Sosa, should ‘try to keep up’ with the public so that salaries could be increased, but he added that public sector salaries needed to be supported at the same time because they were at a low level.
Having reminded that minimum wage was significantly increased by almost 10%, Sosa said that IMF welcomed the intention of the authorities in Serbia to introduce Swiss formula for pension indexation. ‘We support this and think it is a good idea to get some space for pension increase’, said Sosa. He announced the continuation of IMF technical assistance in the reform of Serbian Tax Administration, which should be done in cooperation with the World Bank. Regarding the financial system in Serbia, he pointed out it was in good shape and problematic loans were reduced to the level before the crisis. On the subject of labour force and possible crisis in this area, he explained that judging by recently published IMF document on demographic challenges, a falling trend in labour force could be seen, not only in Serbia but in the whole region, and more drastically in the Eastern Europe.
He thinks it is a challenge for Serbia to prevent the emigration wave of the young and talented, but also to promote the return of those who had already left.
"Magic solution does not exist. Apart from higher salaries, more dynamic private sector that will create opportunities for entrepreneurship, promotion of institutions and reduction of corruption are important for the alleviation of the problem. These challenges demand reforms to be applied as soon as possible", said Sosa.

Immediate Compensation for Injuries at Work

26. July 2019  •564•    Further

Trade union data say that for the past 15 years only 30% of workers have been able to get paid for injuries at work. However, workers who get injured at work will now be able to charge for the injury and not spend so much time at courts trying to get some kind of compensation. According to the announcement of the line ministry, everybody shall be insured and the money paid immediately.
"Up to now workers, who were injured or damaged in any way at work, have had such a hard time charging for the damages they underwent. Unfortunately, even the families of those with fatal injuries could not get any compensation and the whole thing more or less ended up in court", says Zoran Mihajlović, CATUS Council Secretary. Trade unionists think that obliging employers to insure their employees with an insurance company which would momentarily pay the compensation is a step forward changing such bad statistics for the better. Nevertheless, the part about the insurance company is a problem for them.
"We are actually in favour of establishing a special fund into which employers would pay money that will be further on used for insuring workers from the consequences of injuries. This way the funds could be controlled better and workers or their families would find it much easier to charge for the damage", says Mihajlović.
Having in mind that ministries haven’t sent an official letter dealing with this issue, Serbian Employers’ Association is not able to make any comments about this. But SEA honorary President, Nebojša Atanacković, says the idea is good and adds that this is yet another cost for those employers who haven’t still insured their employees and they aren’t really going to be happy about this because it will affect their business. As we have learned, the law regulating this area is supposed to be passed in autumn.

ITUC Conference in Belgrade

16. July 2019  •563•    Further

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) invited SEE national trade union confederations to support the campaign on minimum wage rise. It was said at the regional wage forum, held on July 16-17 in Belgrade, that the rise, as well as the strengthening of social protection, would enable decent life for workers and their families and support sustainable and inclusive development of the region
ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow said that despite global economic growth, salaries were stagnating for decades and did not keep up with the increasing productivity. ‘Economic growth did not translate into the opportunities for decent work, inequality was still growing and there was a high level of poverty, which all had catastrophic social, political and economic effects’, she explained.
According to her, millions of people around the world do not earn enough to have a decent life while the inadequate social protection system worsens the already high levels of inequality and poverty.
SEE has experienced a relatively stable economic growth and due to this GDP has almost quadrupled since 2000. However, this growth is not distributed fairly among the population and this logically led to the income inequality. This is why a great number of people live at the edge of poverty and young, well-educated people are going abroad to find work, resulting in less availability of high quality skills in those countries. PERC Executive Secretary, Anton Leppik, explained it was necessary to ensure collective bargaining in the region so that decent salaries and quality public services could be provided. Even though all SEE countries installed minimum wages, they were quite low and insufficient because they did not provide for decent life. Also, trade unions were often the targets of attack, putting collective bargaining in the unenviable position, he added.
CATUS Presidency and Council member, Milan Grujić, pointed out to an unprecedentedly difficult situation in Serbia, especially after the transition period, where the majority of workforce was at the edge of poverty and biological survival. As the Executive Secretary of TUC NEZAVISNOST, Čedanka Andrić said, negotiations on minimum wage, which now amounted to 229EUR, would start in a month. Last year at the Social and Economic Council session, consensus was made in order to equalize minimum wage and minimum consumer basket value. This meant that trade union goal in 2021 was for the minimum wage to reach 315EUR, which was minimum consumer basket value at the moment, she said. The conference is also attended by trade unions from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia.

More Information to Prevent Abuse of Posted Workers

3. July 2019  •562•    Further

Serbia faces a real exodus of workers, who usually leave the country ill-informed and are rather unprotected when they are abroad. They are not familiar with their rights and don’t know the European directives, which often makes them victims of ill-treatment or underpayment. In order to improve the position of these employees, there is a need for more information, better networking of the employees themselves and wider media coverage. The biggest problem is the absence of legislation regulating individual departures and employment through agencies.
In the case they have problems, workers often don’t know who to contact, while we usually learn about them from the media. Until now, the most common problems have been those caused by the companies with fictitious business names, subcontractors who left workers without salaries or paid leave, or made them stay and work longer than agreed - without insurance and compensation for travel expenses. Also, the contracts often don’t define precisely the elements of the salary, referring to other acts that workers, as a rule, insufficiently know about. There are information on special web sites, but they mostly deal with cases of violation of workers’ rights or incidental situations (expulsions due to the expiration of documents or non-payment of wages).
The main challenges in the coming period will be the implementation of the Directives, finding more efficient ways of informing social partners and employees (in their languages) and prevention of abuse in domains such as working conditions, wages and occupational health and safety.
Analyses show that 64% of posted workers are unqualified and 36% highly qualified. The greatest mobility was recorded in the construction sector (about 50% of all registered departures), then in sectors of transport and trade and recently, there has been some growth also in those of education and provision of specific services. The mobility between neighbouring countries is rather high (52%), so it can be argued that the majority of posted workers are moving from East to West.
The revision of the Employment Directive n. 2018/957 introduced the principle of "equal pay for equal work", but the term “equal pay” offers possibility of different interpretations and inadequate implementation (increase of the number of "self-employed", lower wages for posted workers and social dumping). It is obvious that we need a clear definition of the wage elements and a minimum wage at the European level. The assistance of labour inspectors upon the signing of employment contracts for posted workers could prevent many irregularities.
In Serbia, the amended law on posted workers entered into force on July 7, 2018. Pursuant to the article 12 of that law, the employer is obliged to send to Social Insurance Central Registry all information concerning the posting of workers and their further moves abroad.

Unions Left Session of Social and Economic Council

2. July 2019  •561•    Further

The decision was a consequence of the Government’s policy in the Republican Geodetic Authority (RGA), characterised by a permanent violation of employees’ rights. The absence of the CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost representatives blocked further work of the Council, as there was no quorum for decision-making, said Minister of Labour, Djordjevic. He put it more precisely by saying that unions had not quit the Council, but demanded a special session dedicated to the subject and with the presence of Prime Minister, Brnabic.
CATUS President Orbovic left also the previous Council session, irritated by the fact that unionists in the RGA were mistreated after a legally organised strike.
Answering to the accusation that the director was creating a new, yellow company union, he said that in such cases the procedure was very clear. „There is a law regulating the whole process and if anything is done unproperly, one can always find a way to correct it legally“, said the Minister. He added he was hopeful of the unions presence at the next Council meeting, where the issue of minimum wage will be on the agenda.

Republic Geodetic Authority:
A Single Mom Brutally Fired

24. June 2019  •560•    Further

We already wrote several times about the problems in the Republic Geodetic Authority. Both CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost informed the public that its management had started displacing the employees and sending them to offices which were more than 50 kilometers away from their homes. Additionally, their salaries were being decreased and work contracts not extended – one of the victims being a single mother with three kids.
The workers in question have been punished because of their resistance against the management and striking.
Dijana Konsantinovic of the CATUS company trade union explains: “It’s a woman who worked for seven years with a fixed-term contract and is not a union member, which usually happens to those who work with such contracts. Her contract was not extended in spite of the fact that she has to take care of three little children. It’s clear that when you do this to a woman like her, it must have a tremendous effect on the others, too”. Besides, this is contrary to the Labour Law and collective agreement. Director’s unilateral decision on transfer to distant offices is also illegal, as the law explicitly requires worker’s consent”.
Of course, such treatment can always be justified by "a growing workload at the periphery"). One can complain – and many did it – but no answer came so far. The unionists are convinced they are confronted with blackmailing: the non-extension of work contracts is a way of intimidating the others, who are then additionally pressed to leave the unions.

Minimum Salary: Unions for 10% Increase

19. June 2019  •559•    Further

According to an announcement made by the Minister of Finance, Mali, a new minimum salary could be fixed this autumn. While the unions fight for at least 10% increase, the employers are not ready to accept more than 6%. This year’s minimum salary was 27,000 dinars (230 euros), while the minimum consumer basket was 37,000 i.e. 314 euros.
In an interview, the CATUS President Orbovic said there had been no official negotiations on the subject, yet. “There is only a social partners’ general recommendation to equal the values of minimum salary and minimum consumer basket, within the next three years. A 10 % increase would be a step in that direction”, he concluded.
The employers try to be “realistic” and firmly defend their position. “The increase should follow the growth of GDP rate, with inflation rate added to it, and it’s in total round 5 to 6%”, says Nebojsa Atanackovic, honorary president of the Employers’ Association of Serbia. He believes, however, that it could be even bigger, “but on condition that the government covers the losses the employers might suffer”.
The increase of the minimum salary is only the first step, say the unionists and add they don’t want Serbia with 350,000 people getting the minimum and many others being paid with great delays. They give the example of the European Union, where the minimum salary is generally around 60% of the average wage. In spite of some improvement Serbian salaries are still at the European bottom, which often makes people look for jobs abroad. With only slight and periodical increases they will not be seriously motivated to stay here.

Jurists and Teachers on Scaffold Boards –
Construction Workers Abroad

10. June 2019  •558•    Further

A great number of qualified construction workers already left Serbia and are working abroad. Therefore, an average construction worker in the sector is nowadays 55 years old, often has a foreign passport and works without a contract. All this must make us reflect on the quality of their work and safety of buildings they construct.
The mass exodus of our workers to countries where the salaries are higher and job security better is going on. Due to a privatization, which resembled more a plunder than a lawful acquisition, only few large and respectable companies have survived, which made our workers look for job elsewhere. Their place was taken by workers from Turkey and other countries, who are now more than 10,000. They are mostly low-educated and live in constant fear of labour inspectors. Work accidents are not reported because such workers avoid any contact with the authorities.
There are no top construction workers in Serbia anymore, as almost all of them – craftsmen, foremen, technicians and engineers - went abroad. It’s difficult to find people able to do a good job on high buildings and big infrastructural constructions. A palpable increase of daily salaries, which currently vary between 50 and 100 euros, has only inflated the rents, but not attracted the young. The presence of unqualified work force especially upsets the unions.
“There are more and more workers who get hurt and even perish at construction sites”, says Sasa Torlakovic, President of Serbian Construction Workers’ Union, and adds: “In the last accident, the man who lost his life was a pensioner. We also have many teachers and jurists who work without knowing anything about the building technics. Some of them are ready to work for 20 euros a day in order to feed their families”.
An average company in the sector is usually a subcontractor with only few permanent workers and majority of employees with fixed-term contracts (and mostly unregistered). A collective agreement, which would guarantee the equal treatment of all employees, is in most cases avoided. Torlakovic is categorical on the topic:”If we want to attract young people to construction schools and rejuvenate our work force, we have to make employers respect the Labour Law and collective agreements”.
Last year the inspectors registered round 4,000 cases of construction workers working without work contracts. At their insistence, more than 90% of them got a regular job in the same company – but it has obviously not contributed to the eradication of this highly adverse phenomenon.

New Law on Agency Work
without Dialogue with Unions

3. June 2019  •557•    Further

Government and employers accepted only one out of eight remarks the unions made at the session of Social and Economic Council, agreeing namely that in case the workers’ rights are violated, these might sue not only the agency, but the employer as well – paying court fees only once. It’s a rather weak consolation after a refusal of other seven, more important, amendments.
Nowadays, there are more than 100 employment agencies in Serbia and 70,000 to 100,000 workers employed through them. So far, these employees’ status was not regulated by the law and they were often deprived of holiday and sick leave, hot meal and compensation of travel expenses. If the Parliament adopts the draft including trade unions’ remarks, the agency workers will have the same rights as other employees in the company. Their status could remain unchanged for no longer than 24 months.
Vice-President of CATUS, Vukovic, is afraid that without union remarks being generally accepted, the agency workers’ position would remain precarious. Serbian press is full of articles on temporary workers being dismissed and afterwards re-employed through agencies. Something like that happened to the entire department in the Oil Industry of Serbia.
The union claims, related to obligatory bank guarantees for employment agencies of at least 6 million dinars and agency workers making no more than 10% of total company work force, were also rejected. After that, it was clear that guarantees for free establishment of trade unions and possibility of signing collective agreements were to be rejected, too. The same happened to the idea of imposing penalties on employers - identical to those stipulated by the Labour Law.
“Time limit for correcting “inaccuracies” is the end of June. If until then our partners have shown no due respect for our proposals, the CATUS will not approve the adoption of this law”, concluded Vukovic.

Orbovic Left Session
of Social and Economic Council

31. May 2019  •556•    Further

CATUS President did it because he was “highly dissatisfied” by the way the management treated workers who took part in a strike organized in the Republic Geodetic Authority (RGA).
“While the Council was discussing the problems related to social dialogue, our members were being transferred from one work place to another, contrary to the agreement reached with the government of Serbia and stipulating they would not be punished for their participation in the strike”, said Orbovic to journalists during the break.
He added that the Director of the RGA was creating his own company union in order to control the employees. He tried to attract mostly the newcomers and hoped he could achieve representativeness.
Orbovic was determined in asking the government to respect the agreement signed with the employees. He concluded by saying that some other companies used to mistreat strikers, as well.
In response to Orbovic’s accusations, the Minister of Labour Djordjevic (who is currently chairing the Council) said he had learnt about the transfer of employees only after coming back from an official trip, a day before. He added he would inform the Prime Minister Brnabic about that and announced a visit of Labour Inspection to the RGA.

Local Social and Economic Councils in Crisis

26. May 2019  •555•    Further

Recently, an important conference has been held in Prolom banja, with a participation of delegates representing social and economic councils of the capital cities of Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Republic Srpska and Albania. The objective was to analyse the functioning of social dialogue at local level and draw conclusions necessary for further action.
The participants exchanged information about the history of the problem and the current functioning of the councils. The main problems to which they pointed seemed to be the authoritarian nature of the governments in the region, the lack of democracy and representative social partners, as well as the non-existence of employers’ associations at the local level. Common denominator for all countries was the purely formal character of the social dialogue and bodies that should have contributed to its realisation.
Mostly interested for the creation and proper work of the councils are generally the unions which understand their importance for a quality social dialogue, stronger influence on labour legislation and better protection of workers’ rights and well-being.
The participants agreed upon, and later signed, an agreement on regional cooperation that will serve as a platform for the next meeting, to be held during the following conference of capital cities. They were all of the opinion that unions must be more active in paving the way for social dialogue, change their methods of work at all levels, initiate the realisation of constructive projects and dedicate more time and money for capacity-building in this domain.

FIAT Workers Upset by the News
on Prolongation of Paid Leave

24. May 2019  •554•    Further

Workers of FIAT Chrysler Serbia (FCA) factory in Kragujevac got worried when they learnt from some media that the company management would soon ask the competent Ministry to consent to additional 95 days (besides the legally allowed 45) of paid leave. President of the factory trade union, Zoran Marković, said he had not been informed about this, but the employees really got anxious after learning the news from the media. Marković added that the trade union attitude was to ask first the Ministry of Labour, i.e. the office of the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, for necessary information and only then make comments.
“We do not know whether FCA will really submit the request for the approval of additional 95 days, because no one has officially informed us about this. We haven’t been informed neither about FIAT’s production plan for this year, nor whether the idea to produce a new model in Kragujevac factory is to be realized”, said Marković. He confirmed, however, that according to the national Labour Law, the employer has the right to ask from the Ministry of Labour the consent for additional days of paid leave with the pay being only 65% of the regular one.
In that case, the final decision is made by the Minister him/herself, but he/she needs to get a non-binding opinion of trade unions. “We think we should have been informed about the issue by FCA or the Government, which is the owner of 33% of its capital”, concluded Marković. According to what he says, the workers are anxious because they have no clear knowledge of the factory’s future. Since the beginning of this year 30 non-working days have been used.

CATUS Delegation Meets the IMF Mission

22. May 2019  •553•    Further

Presidents of Autonomous Trade Union of Judiciary Employees and Autonomous Civil Servants Union, Milosevic and Potezica, met Prime Minister Brnabic and Minister of State Administration and Local Self-Government Ruzic, in order to negotiate a new collective agreement, especially the issue of per diem allowances, and hot meal/annual leave compensation. Defending their claim to fixed minimum amounts of compensation for 2019 and 2020, the two presidents pointed out to low salaries in their sectors and gave some concrete proposals of how to manage the problem.
The Prime Minister’s idea to solve it only through a pay rise and Government’s unilateral regulation of per diem allowances were flatly refused by President Milosevic who was not ready to accept a collective agreement fixing workers’ rights below the level guaranteed by the Labour Law. That law, namely the article 8, strictly forbids such manoeuvres, she said.
The Trade Union of Judiciary Employees stands for the strict and not selective obedience to the Law “guaranteeing every worker the right to hot meal and annual leave compensation, as stipulated by the collective agreement” and was not ready to accept anything less than this. Thus, the process has reached an impasse, with both sides preparing ground for a new round of negotiations.

CATUS Delegation Meets the IMF Mission

16. May 2019  •552•    Further

Representatives of CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost met in Belgrade with the new chief of the IMF Mission in Serbia, Jan Kees Martijn. The meeting took place in the National Bank of Serbia, the main issues on the agenda being the salaries, pensions, minimum wage and fiscal policy. Martijn presented the IMF program (which has already been approved by Serbian Government) and listened to a trade union presentation on current economic and social situation, main challenges to our economy and future economic perspectives.
CATUS President Orbovic said that although for the past few years the salaries were being raised, the increase was very slow. “Minimum wage has been increased by 28%, but the amount itself is awfully poor (229 euros per month). The average wage (419 euros) is also provoking discontent. At the moment, half a million Serbian workers, which is one quarter of the working population, are getting the minimum wage, but even worse is the fact that in companies where employers are foreigners, the average wages are only 20% higher than that! There are no sectoral collective agreements in industry anymore and consequently no space for a considerable pay rise”.
Orbovic also mentioned the scourge of penalty points for those who - retiring before the age of 65 - see their pensions reduced by 20% and lose 2.5 pensions a year. Especially difficult is the position of elder workers, who got retired after working for years in companies subjected to restructuring. For a long time they received a minimum wage and now see that poor amount reduced by 20%! According to CATUS estimates, they are nowadays round 23,000.
Chief of the IMF Mission said that Fund’s experts already noticed the problem of growing inequality, which is an effect of the distribution system and might cause public disorder. That is why the Mission – jointly with Serbian Government and principally by influencing a fiscal reform - has been trying to find ways of speeding up the growth. They support a reduction of taxes on wages, still on condition the hole in the budget be filled by other taxes. A good example was the abrogation of the unemployment insurance contributions (paid so far by the employers), which led to an increase of the minimum wage. Generally, the IMF is a partisan of public investment in infrastructure and social security - especially if they contribute to the wellbeing of the most vulnerable social groups. As there are sufficient means in the budget, the problem of pensions could be solved, but one should have to find a right balance among different objectives and programs. It’s Government and unions’ business to negotiate a compromise thereupon. At the end, the IMF Mission gave its support to the growth and socially oriented policies.

Humiliation of Workers in Serbia
Seems to Have No End

10. May 2019  •551•    Further

Increasingly brutal and irresponsible behaviour of foreign employers towards workers and trade union representatives is one more proof that the country is ruled by a wild capitalism turning Serbian workers into slaves with almost no rights. Foreign capital, exploiting our resources and employees, is slowly transforming Serbia into a country which will only be able to offer cheap labour force. In order to create a positive climate, which is supposed to attract foreign capital and provoke the creation of new jobs, the Government takes into account mostly the employers’ rights. These feeling protected by the State spread then fear across companies and violate laws and Constitution of our country.
Immediately after the media stopped writing about the newest examples of employers’ inhumane behaviour towards employees, there was the news from the enterprise „Adriana Tex“ in Ruma, illustrating the continuation of the slave-holders’ terror in Serbia. In that enterprise, which is a part of the famous Italian brand „Calzedonia“, a Croatian director has been insulting workers by mocking their nationality (in their motherland!) and not letting them write in Cyrillic, (which is the official script of the country she works and lives in).
Besides the inadequate behaviour, insults and discrimination of employees, related to their nationality, she does not allow any trade union organising, which is a right guaranteed by the law and Constitution of this country. CATUS informed the international trade union public about this and expects support from them in order to solve this urgent problem. Original letter written by desperate workers, and sent to many addresses, is available here.

Att: General Attorney Office and
Police Station in Ruma
CATUS President
Belgrade, May 10 2019

Dear Madam/Sir
Dear colleague President,
We are writing to you full of indignation in order to denounce the way the employees in factory Adriana Tech Ltd. in Ruma (Serbia) are treated by their director, Mrs. Jasna Prapotnik.
Mrs. Prapotnik behaviour is highly unprofessional, without scruple and rude, as she constantly offends and humiliates the employees - often because of their nationality and religion. Her inventory of insults seems to be endless (“You, Serbs, don’t deserve anything better than this – you should be commanded by the Gypsies!” or “F… your Serbian mother!” or “You, Serbian goats!” or “You Serbs are completely unable to work!” etc.). Once, her offences grew so intense that our colleague Ivana Kecman from Ruma got so ill that we had to call the emergency. To cover up the incident and avoid being sued for mobbing, Mrs. Prapotnik paid then certain amount to our colleague. Another time, the director refused to accept the signature put under the annex of the labour contract of colleague Marija Nikolic from Stejanovac, only because it was in Cyrilic. She insisted on signature in latin and under pressure Marija had to comply with director’s claim.
Once, speaking to workers she said she appreciated Serbian legislation a lot, alluding to the fact that her way of running the company has never been sanctioned.
We, employees, are also worried because Mrs.Prapotnik is openly against the establishment of a trade union organization in the company (that right is guaranteed by our Labour Law). Colleague Drago Tesic has tried to help us in organizing a union, but he was not successful, as the director threatened those who wanted to join it with severe punishment.
We are afraid and anxious about the future. We hope you will understand us and together with competent authorities protect us.
Workers in the company “Adriana Tech Ltd”

Joint Trade Unions Rally on May 1

30. April 2019  •550•    Further

CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost have agreed again to commemorate the main workers’ holiday together. This year the workers will march under the banner expressing the essence of their precarious position – “Higher Wages - Key to Workers’ Survival and End of Emigration”. It’s a fact that with today’s wages the employees can only survive and are often forced to leave the country in search for better solutions. The analysts agree that very soon the country will lack adequate (and highly needed) work force.
The rally will start in front of the CATUS building at Nikola Pasic Square, exactly at noon and will take a form of a protest walk ending at Slavija Square, at the monument of the founder of Serbian Social Democratic Party, Dimitrije Tucovic. The initial idea was to organise it in Kragujevac, where President of the Weapon Factory trade union, Ilic, had been dismissed, however, after his reinstatement the situation changed and the rally is to be held again in the capital.
In the socialist epoch, the workers were able to live from their work decently and were a kind of a privileged social group. Since the 1990s, however, they lost most of their rights, and the salaries they have been earning (often working as feudal serfs) enabled only their and their families’ biological survival. Those who were lucky to get a job are living in a constant fear of losing it and are thus easily blackmailed by the employers. The majority works with fixed term contracts or through the employment agencies, whose work has not been regulated by the law.
Many employers don’t pay contributions to social funds and the Government being one of them. They are rarely ready to pay for extra hours and even try to avoid the paying of the minimum wage. The law has considerably limited the right to strike by introducing the minimum service in many sectors.
According to CATUS Secretary General, Mihajlovic, the real unemployment rate is much higher than the official one and the average wages of Serbian workers lower than the average wages in other European countries.

IMF Should Help Ending
Unjust Treatment of Pensioners

27. April 2019  •549•    Further

At the forthcoming Belgrade meeting with the IMF mission the CATUS will once more demand the abrogation of penalty points for pensioners. “It will be one of the main topics on the agenda”, stated CATUS President Orbovic talking about the meeting with the representatives of the Fund, which is to take place on May 4. On his initiative the subject was already thoroughly discussed at the recent session of the Social and Economic Council, however, without the Minister of Finance being present.
According to the available data, due to the controversial law the pensions of 30,000 pensioners have been decreased since 2015 – the maximum reduction being 20.4 %. Before the meeting with the IMF mission, the CATUS asked the Ministry of Finance to calculate the amount needed to cover the expenses of the possible points abrogation. ‘It should cost the Government 100 million euros, which equals the sum destined for the relief of debtors enslaved by the Swiss franc credits’, said Orbovic.
After reaching 65 (the regular age for retiring), pensioners should not be punished any longer and should receive a full pension, thinks the CATUS President. In previous talks with the IMF, three years ago, such demand was rejected for the alleged danger of “additionally burdening the Serbian pension system”. Nowadays, when pensions’ share in the budget is beneath 11 % (a level fixed by the Fund itself) there is no more reason to refuse unions’ claims, concludes Orbovic.

Kindergarten Employees Win 9% Increase

20. April 2019  •548•    Further

After an unproductive meeting with the representatives of the Ministry of Education, three major unions of kindergarten employees were preparing a strike and rally in Belgrade with mass participation of members from all parts of Serbia. The protest should have started on April 10 at 1 p.m. by the CATUS building and ended up in front of the Ministry of Education and the Government.
However, a day after it was postponed as the Ministry accepted unions’ claims to make salaries of kindergarten employees and teachers in primary schools equal. The Government’s readiness to compromise was confirmed by the creation of a special work group for kindergarten education which was also one of the unions’ demands.
Later on, at its April 16th session, the Government adopted the amendments to the Law on Budget System, whereby the salaries of kindergarten employees were adapted to those of primary school teachers. This increase will be financed by additional means coming from municipal budgets and will amount to 382 million dinars (3.4 million euros).
The law was adopted through an urgent procedure and will make kindergarten employees’ salaries increase by 9 % starting this June.

Kragujevac Weapon Factory: Workers’ Victory
Following Domestic and International Pressure

18. April 2019  •547•    Further

Workers came out on strike because the company trade union’s president Ilic was fired. Gathered at the assembly, they announced a general strike in case their leader was not reinstated in his work place.
The case has not passed unnoticed abroad, as the mightiest Swedish metal workers federation “IF Metal” has quickly sent a letter to the factory director Petkovic, urging him to cancel the dismissal and allow Ilic to work and perform trade union activities without being hindered by the management. The “IF Metal” president, Marie Nilsson, warned Mr. Petkovic against the fact that he violated the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association and right to organize and negotiate.
Ten days after the warning strike and five days after the protest letter from Sweden, the director signed the official decision on Ilic’s reinstatement “out of respect for trade union arguments”. The City Trade Union Organisation of Kragujevac expressed its deep gratitude for support coming from Serbian and international trade unions and contributing to joint workers’ victory.

Kindergarten Teachers’ Rally on April 11

8. April 2019  •546•    Further

The decision was taken in an attempt to direct public opinion towards problems the teachers have been confronted with for the last few years, but also to press the Government to be more active in finding a proper solution. The date was agreed by three unions organizing the event – the Autonomous Union of Pre-School Upbringing and Education, the Teachers’ Union of Serbia (both affiliated to the CATUS) and the Trade Union of Teachers (affiliated to TUC Nezavisnost). The participants will gather in front of the CATUS building and march to the Office of the President of the Republic and ministries of finance, education, state and local administration.
At the press conference organized on April 5 the unions insisted on their specific role in society, as well as on challenges and responsibilities that make their job highly difficult and strenuous. So far, they say, the Government has closed its ears to their claims.
One of the most serious problems is the lack of personnel caused by the Government’s ban of employment in public sector, which has been in effect for six years now. Besides, 30 % of employees work with fixed-time contracts, there is no special bonus for those who work with disabled kids and some local authorities are delaying the payment of salaries. Also, the regulation on child space ratio and child sick leaves is not respected.
The President of Teachers Union of Serbia demanded that the treatment of kindergarten teachers be equal to that of teachers in elementary and secondary schools. “They have been treated unlawfully, as if not being part of our education system, so while all employees in public sector received the 9 % increase, they got nothing – all on the pretext they are financed by local authorities and not by the Government”, said Ilic. Other speakers spoke about their feeling “of being pushed to the margins of the system - although their activities were not unlike those of other teachers” and insisted that the strike was consequence of “moral and not only economic considerations”.

President Orbovic in “ZASTAVA Weapons”
Factory in Kragujevac

6. April 2019  •545•    Further

The urgent invitation came as a result of constant pressure on CATUS factory union and a series of accidents which involved trade union activists and their leader, Dragan Ilic. We previously wrote about the harassment he had been subjected to by the company management and the Security Intelligence Agency. This time Orbovic was accompanied by the CATUS Council Secretary, Mihajlovic and President of Kragujevac Trade Union City Council, Ristic.
At the meeting, the CATUS leaders were informed about tensions that started growing after yesterday’s dismissal of several directors, department chiefs, and foremen, responsible for managing some of the key production lines.
CATUS has been strongly opposing such treatment of the staff, who are indispensable for the proper functioning of the production process, and demands from the Ministry of Defence to stop those who intend to destroy company’s human capital and endanger its very survival.
The lack of transparency has reactivated rumours of possible privatisation of the company.

SEC for Abrogation of Law on Salaries in Public Sector

26. March 2019  •544•    Further

Social and Economic Council of the Republic of Serbia expressed its positive opinion about the abrogation of the law which has temporarily reduced salaries of public sector employees. The law has been in force since 2014 and referred to 67,000 employees in public utility companies and around 130,000 employees in public sector i.e. to the total of 200,000 employees. The session of the Social and Economic Council, held on March 25, was also attended by Minister Siniša Mali, who supported the idea of enforcing the new law on January 1, 2020.
Council’s agenda also included the initiative of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia to amend the provision 70ª of the Law on Pension and Disability Insurance, in other words to abolish penalty points for retirement before the age of 65. Representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Finance would make a joint analysis of the effects of a possible abolishment of ‘’penalties’’ and communicate it to social partners – said Minister of Labour Đorđević after the Council session. He added that the issue would be "analysed in depth", having in mind that it was important to assess its long-term impact on economy and finances. Premature retirement might lead to an increase of the number of pensioners in the country and make the position of beneficiaries of some other forms of assistance more difficult.
The meeting was also attended by CATUS Vice-President, Vuković and TUC Nezavisnost President, Stojiljković. Besides the aforementioned topics, the issues such as collective bargaining, migrations and strategy of social-economic development were also on the agenda.
Working part of the session was followed by a joint session of Social and Economic Councils of Serbia, Republic of Srpska and Greece. The session was attended by the chairman of the Economic and Social Council of Srpska, Dragutin Škrebić and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council of Greece, Georgios Karanikas.

Postal Workers Demand Higher Salaries
and Part of the Profit

16. March 2019  •543•    Further

Part of Serbia Post staff stood up again for their rights. Since several days ago, those working in Belgrade Post Centre have been blocking the deliveries to final users from 8 p.m. 11:30 p.m. Their discontent is fully justifiable, as demands they have been making for years were constantly ignored.
President of the Postal Workers’ Union, Pavlovic, is clear: “The workers sent their claim for pay-raise to the Direction and gave them two week time to accept it. As there was no answer, they decided to go on everyday three–and-half-an–hour strikes, using them as a means for making pressure on those responsible for the problem and attracting attention of the public. He explained that while the nominal amount the workers receive at the end of the month is smaller than the one they were getting seven years ago, the real wages have gone down for 20%. “We make part of the public sector, where we all fell victims of the wage-cut in 2014. However, after all other sectors recently saw their salaries increased, we were left at the previous level, so nowadays, people with secondary school diplomas still receive only 32,000 to 39,000 dinars (271 to 331 euros) per month.
Pavlovic has been particularly irritated by the fact that after oscillating for years round the national average (which is currently 50,000 dinars i.e. 424 euros), the wages in postal sector are now far below it. Many pensioners, he says, who retired “on time”, i.e. “in good old times” have pensions higher than salaries they would get if they still worked at their old work place! So, the first urgent demand is the increase of employees’ salaries up to the national average, the second – an additional salary from the company budget. The President is resolute: “Post Serbia has a surplus of 7 billion dinars (59 million euros) which is capable of covering labour costs for 7 months. We simply want one seventh of that sum paid to workers in the form of one-time assistance”.
At the end, he criticised the Government’s ban on new employments in public sector and extremely low wages of workers with fixed-time contracts, without forgetting to mention the problem of nepotism securing good work places for relatives and party friends. “I don’t understand why workers could not participate in the profit of their company if they contributed to its creation. We are not asking money from the budget, on the contrary, being paid more we shall contribute more to the public finance”, concluded Pavlovic.

Decent Work Programme Signed

8. March 2019  •542•    Further

On March 7 “Program for Decent Work 2019-2022” was signed by social partners in the premises of CATUS. Key actors at the ceremony were presidents of two largest confederations (CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost), Orbovic and Stojiljkovic, Deputy President of the Employers’ Association, Kovacevic and Minister of Labour, Djordjevic. The solemnity of the moment was increased by the presence of the Deputy General Director of the ILO, Heinz Koller. The program announced a joint action of the Government, employers, trade unions and the ILO aimed at introducing to Serbia highest labour and social security standards.
The unions are aware that the rapid increase of workers’ standard of living and labour conditions is hard to expect, but are optimistic about a gradual improvement of employees’ status. Orbovic said “he would not have signed the agreement if he had not believed that workers life might get better in the future”, especially as he found “social partners ready to upgrade the dignity of work”. “For the past twenty years we have used to make one step forward and then two steps backwards. I am hopeful that from now on we shall see Serbia progressing if not rapidly, than equably. However, since we are far from the fully developed Western societies, our first step ought to be rather long”, he concluded.
Stojiljkovic is convinced that common authorship of the project is a guarantee that it would be realised. “The Program stipulates the existence of a Supervisory Board and two conferences per year enabling social partners to control together the realisation of the Project. The influence of all social partners and possibility of evaluation much before the end of 2022 has thus been assured”, he added.
Mr. Kovacevic, from the Employers’ Association said there was no employers’ well-being without the well-being of workers and pointed to the shared responsibility of all partners for the state of Serbian economy”, while Mr. Koller offered to social partners all kinds of ILO assistance and congratulated signatories for their sui generis contribution to the 100th anniversary of the ILO.

Fatigue Causing Deadly Accidents at Work

4. March 2019  •541•    Further

Last month two more workers lost their lives and one was seriously wounded at Serbian construction sites. The death-toll in 2018 has been frightening: 53 fatal accidents and thousands of wounded – the most tragic year since 2006. The victims were mostly those working in construction, the main cause of accidents - the violation of safety and health rules, extreme fatigue and exaggerated self-confidence. Speaking about the latter, President of the CATUS City Council of Novi Sad, Gvozdenovic, was, however, explicit:
“We have to admit that workers are not sufficiently conscious about the importance of wearing protective clothes and using all prescribed equipment, but the most responsible are still the employers who employ the unskilled work force and avoid dedicating enough funds to training and consciousness-raising”. It would be a mistake, he added, to blame mostly workers – they fear to lose their job and often work under enormous pressure. Some of them - eager to fulfill the dead-lines imposed by the employers – are used to work 12 hours a day, for two, even three weeks without a day-off, risking to lose their concentration and become victims of an accident. It’s true that Labour Inspection can verify whether all protective measures have been employed and whether workers are using all the necessary equipment, but they are unable to measure the level of their concentration.
The experts confirm that Serbian laws are in line with the EU legislation, but point out to their defective implementation. They blame both employers and workers, without forgetting the experts who often lack a sectoral specialization. They sometimes mention the ex-Yugoslav socialist legislation which prevented the work accidents much more successfully, because the rules had to be respected, workers properly educated and managements more dedicated to the employees’ safety.
The jurists are convinced that controls are insufficient, both in number and quality, and judicial treatment unsatisfactory. “You cannot have quick and efficient control if one inspector covers 1706 companies! Moreover, only 0.5% of controls end in criminal proceedings and 23% in civil ones. Therefore, there are bosses who seeing the inefficiency and lenience of courts calculate that the neglect of security measures is the most profitable solution and decide to take a risk.

Mass Exodus of Serbian Workers

28. February 2019  •540•    Further

To stop the exodus of workers which in last decade swept away 5% of the total population is one of the most serious challenges the country is facing nowadays. Three main reasons for the exodus are mass unemployment, low salaries and attractive well-paid jobs in the European Union. To look for a solution to this problem an entire team of experts (mostly economists, demographers and statisticians) was created. According to the Minister of Labour, Djordjevic, the slowing down of the emigration is to be the result of a combination of factors such as faster economic growth, more stable public finance and new foreign investments.
However, neither other neighbouring countries that take part in the EU accession process (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania) are resistant to this phenomenon. Moreover, even those that have already become EU members, such as Croatia and Bulgaria, are suffering from the mass exodus of their citizens. In the latter the situation is more critical, as the negative effects of the emigration are aggravated by a rapid decrease of birth rate.
During his visit last week, Sergei Guriev, the Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) stated that although still being among the countries with a rather low standard of living, Serbia was capable of quickly reaching Georgia, Turkey and Hungary, if eventually it joined the EU. At that moment the emigration would also go down, he said.
At the end of 2018 the unemployment in Serbia exceeded the critical 11%, still the fact that the economy grew at the pace of 3.5% per year and direct foreign investments reached 1.4 billion euros, was rather promising. According to the data issued by the OECD, 60 % of Serbs who left the country worked and lived in Germany.
There are plans, says Ministar Djordjevic, to orient workers towards retraining programs and attract additional foreign investments. However, Serbia is determined not to follow the economic model based on the use of cheap labour and wants new jobs to be the quality ones, i.e. the ones adding value to products and services. Djordjevic is convinced that the existence of a tremendous social energy in the country is a guarantee that this could be realised.

CATUS Initiative on Penalty Points Abrogation

26. February 2019  •539•    Further

If a Serbian worker has worked the obligatory 40 years and is ready to go to pension, but is not yet 65 years old (the official age for retirement), he will have to suffer so called penalty points (reduction of pension) until he reaches that age. CATUS initiative aims at the abrogation of the points and Confederation finally managed to put it on the agenda of the Social and Economic Council. “It is high time this unjust regulation disappeared”, said CATUS President Orbovic, reiterating trade union opposition to such anti-worker measures.
The statement was given after the session of the Social and Economic Council held in Kragujevac, capital of Central Serbia. Orbovic said he was hopeful about the Government accepting the joint unions’ and employers’ proposal. At that occasion the City mayor Nikolic regretted the fact that local Council rarely met but added it did not mean its members were not informed about the situation and would not meet more often in the future.
The Council will be busier this year, as one is to witness the abrogation of the notorious ban on new jobs in public sector and struggle for higher employees’ salaries. The next session is to be held in Belgrade with the participation of representatives of Social and Economic Councils of Greece and Republic of Srpska. The union source said the negotiations aimed at organizing similar meetings with social partners from France were already under way.

Year 2019 to Be Year of
Health and Safety at Work

19. February 2019  •538•    Further

Realising the initiative of the CATUS, Serbian Parliament has decided to declare the year 2019 “a Year of Health and Safety at Work”. The decision was taken in order to sensitise the public to this issue, which is important not only to workers and employers, but to the whole society. The news was confirmed by Miss Marina Furtula, acting director of the Directorate for Health and Safety, who participated at the Regional Forum dedicated to this subject and organised by the ETUI and CATUS.
In order to get the number of accidents at work reduced, the Ministry of Labour has prepared an Activity Plan where special attention will be paid to strict implementation of all security measures, full respect for prescribed procedures AND raising employers’ and workers’ awareness of the whole issue.
It was CATUS that at the end of last year took the initiative in providing more safety and health for workers in 2019. Having in mind the actual situation in that field and wishing to contribute to prevention of labour accidents (42 deaths and thousands of injuries in 2018) and to help safeguarding and improving workers’ health, the Confederation sent an official proposal to the Ministry of Labour and Government of the Republic of Serbia.
At the same time the CATUS has initiated a campaign with the slogan “Safety and Health Is Workers’ Right” that is to last the whole year.

Water and City Transport to Remain Public Goods

18. February 2019  •537•    Further

Trade Union of Employees in Public Utilities (a member of CATUS) has decided to organise an open-air session of its Council in front of the Government building in order to warn the public about dangers and challenges that the amendments to the law regulating the activities in the sector – and giving private companies possibility of managing waterworks – might bring. The amendments introducing private-public partnership in important branches such as waterworks, tram and trolley transport were passed abruptly, without a public debate and regardless of the fact they could cause many job losses, a price-shot and a decrease in quality of those services.
All this induced the Union to announce the holding of a public session on February 27, at noon, where the abolition of disputed amendments will be demanded from the Parliament. The MPs will be reminded that during the debate preceding the adoption of the amendments they agreed that the key public utilities should keep on working without the interference of private capital. Suddenly and without knowledge of the public the guarantees given to unions were “forgotten” and amendments allowing private partnerships adopted – without any warning of possible disastrous effects.
Having in mind negative experiences of Bulgarian and Romanian authorities that have cancelled their contracts on public-private partnership, the Union is ready to mobilise its members, experts and citizens in order to safeguard water as a public good accessible to all and on most favourable conditions.

Growth of Uncertainty and Anxiety in FCA

11. February 2019  •536•    Further

Are there any plans for production of a new FIAT model here, ask themselves workers of the FCA Kragujevac? A positive answer to this question, often put even to the Italian employers, would certainly bring more tranquility into homes of many families living in the capital of Central Serbia. President of the CATUS-affiliated company trade union, Zoran Markovic, is categorical: the fact that in last two months workers spent more time at home than working, makes them increasingly anxious and perplexed about the future. And explains: “Getting paid for no work done, makes you think more and more about the unsustainability and temporariness of such an easy life”.
Markovic says that workers are ready to work a lot and mentions again the hypothetical “new model”. The fact they had only nine two-shift days and one single-shift day in 2019 is discouraging. Only 3485 vehicles FIAT 500L were produced, without the management giving any official explanation about it. Unofficially, one learns that a reason for frequent stoppages of production lines was the delayed delivery of spare parts coming from abroad. The snow could certainly cause some difficulties but there are also rumours saying that the interruption of the production process was mostly due to “a need of adapting offer to demand”.
Markovic is still hopeful about the “top” FCA management publicly announcing its production and investment plan for all factories outside Italy. This year they are obviously late, he said.
Another news has come from FIAT Plastic (ex-Magneti Marelli, now part of FCA) where management violated the agreement signed with the CATUS affiliate in the company, tried repeatedly to break up unions and finally provoked a warning strike. The workers were especially annoyed by the code of conduct not harmonized with the Labour Law and obligation to work in the extremely cold production halls. Their representatives denounced a hard pressure made on striking workers by the production manager. Still, no one is afraid – on the contrary, everyone wants the strike to go on till the management’s behavior gets in line with labour legislation.

Agency Workers Still Unprotected

27. January 2019  •535•    Further

The draft of law on agency workers has not been approved by the Social and Economic Council and is to be sent back to the Work Group for corrections. However, it is already clear that two most important objections raised by trade unions – no more than 10% agency workers in company and obligatory agency deposits - were not accepted.
The new law should fill the existing legal void and regulate the status of round 100.000 workers working for almost 80 agencies. The unionists are dissatisfied with the draft text and now, after their opinions were fully ignored, see no reason for new meetings of the Work Group. “The Work Group adopted a version of the draft, but after the public debate a completely new text, written by the Ministry of Labour, was offered”, says Zoran Mihajlovic, General Secretary of the CATUS and adds that “most probably this has been done under the pressure of foreign investors”. He is convinced that without the acceptance of two fundamental objections raised by the unions the law will become meaningless.
Analysing these critical remarks, Mihajlovic explains that the introduction of a big agency deposit would have eliminated small profiteers who want to earn without paying regards to ethics, while the “maximum 10% rule” would have hindered the expansion of the model prevailing in Nis region (where 60% of employees are agency workers) to the rest of the country. The proposal has not passed the voting in the Council although it was accompanied by a clause saying that if a company managed to fetch the Ministry’s approval, the agency workers could make even 30% of the company’s total staff.
The new text can be sent to Government and Parliament even without a Council’s consent, which might happen already in March. In that case the law would come into force in April. Still the unions hope that there is time left for additional changes in the draft.

Scandal in LEONI: Workers Persuaded to
Accept Illegal Working Conditions

25. January 2019  •534•    Further

A few days ago German company LEONI withdrew the shameful document, not long ago delivered to all of its workers. Contrary to the norms of the EU labour legislation, but rather similar to those of the Third World countries, it contained the following (‘freely accepted’) obligations:

  • Work in the night shift more than a week, if necessary;
  • Over-time night work regardless of the legal limits depending on family conditions (status);
  • Employer’s freedom to arbitrarily change their wages;
  • Possibility of transfer to work places more than 50 kilometers away;
  • Possibility of being leased to another employer, even for a period longer than a year.
It’s hard to believe, but in response to protests coming from outside the company the managers stated the operation was fully legal and workers not forced to sign anything. They insist that obligations are not really new and were a part of the agreement that came into force in 2009 when company was established. Only recently, they say, it’s been decided to take them out and make a separate document.
The withdrawal of the document did certainly not occur because of the company’s moral considerations, but mostly because of the pressure made by trade unions, media and the public. It’s good its signing by some workers is now to be considered null and void. Any attempt of the management to consider signatures as valid would be fiercely opposed by trade unions.
Various Neoliberal governments had been tolerating such shameful and inhumane behavior of some foreign investors for years, while at home (in this case Germany) the authorities would certainly sanction it severely. Using the urgent need of foreign investments – the one, but not the only way of recovering the economy – many have been treating Serbia as a Third World country. They know that workers who are afraid of losing their jobs will be ready to accept any conditions the greedy profiteers are capable of inventing.

Unions against Private-Public
Deals in Public Utilities

22. January 2019  •533•    Further

From the very beginning of debate concerning the new Law on Public Utilities our federation in the sector (affiliated to the CATUS) was one of its most active participants. In all meetings of experts that they organized themselves, as well as in work groups established to work out the law draft, they acted as a constructive and responsible social partner. Unfortunately, showing no serious interest in the trade union point of view and ignoring its willingness to indicate possible dangers contained in the draft, the Government has not adopted the same attitude. Like many times before, a document of crucial importance was sent to Parliament without a due procedure and contrary to the spirit of social dialogue.
The Government version of the law introduces the public-private partnership even in public utilities that ought to remain entirely public and gives the entrepreneurs possibility to earn extra-profit exploiting the resources which belong to all citizens. The complete lack of public debate and the urgent procedure the politicians used in order to avoid social partners’ “intervention” could be explained by the pro-capitalist nature of the future law that simply had to be adopted.
Thus, in the near future we shall buy water from private companies who will organize the system of production and distribution, fix prices and determine the quality of merchandise and labour relations. Since their main interest is the profit, it is highly unpredictable how much they are ready to invest in repairs and improvement of the system and that could imperil its future functioning. Water is not the last public resource to be ceded to individuals, as trams and trolleys are to follow soon. Those who know well the logics of Serbian Neoliberalism have no doubts that other public utilities will also become prey to private capital.
It seems that neither negative experiences of the Brits, Belgians, Romanians and Bulgarians selling their energy system, waterworks and municipal infrastructure, nor the catastrophic effects of private-public arrangements such as BusPlus in Belgrade and public utilities in Smederevska Palanka and Veliko Gradiste, were sufficient to influence our policy-makers and make them change their position. One thing is sure – workers and final users’ fear of the Government-employer coalition is not unfounded.

Urgent Action Needed to Stop Brain Drain!

18. January 2019  •532•    Further

The newly established Coordination Team which is to deal with prevention of youth emigration and its coming back to Serbia had its first meeting on January 15. First President of the Team will be the Minister of Labour, Zoran Djordjevic. The CATUS, who often pointed out to this problem is also therein represented by its President, Orbovic. The concrete reason for creation of this body has been the new German law on immigration facilitating the employment of foreigners, including those coming from the non-EU countries.
The Team will first define a strategy and then concrete Action Plans. After the meeting, Minister Djordjevic told journalists that Team would analyse the current state of affairs, trends and possible problems. The main objective was to stop emigration of the youth and stimulate their return. In order to realise its tasks the Team will meet at least twice a month and if necessary even more frequently.
Besides the representatives of the ministries of labour, international affairs, education, youth and sports, there will also be representatives of public administration, Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Statistical Office, Chamber of Commerce, Belgrade University, Union of Employers, National Alliance for Local Economic Development and business community.
Making the “Wages to Grow and Youth to Stay!” its last May 1st slogan, CATUS was one of the first to publicly raise its voice on the issue. On that and many other occasions it always tried to convince the Government and the public that youth emigration was closely linked to low wages and lack of quality jobs.

Warning Strike in Judicial System

16. January 2019  •531•    Further

A few days ago, the Trade Union of Employees in Judicial System (affiliated to CATUS) organized an hour warning strike in order to turn the attention of the public towards the ever-growing exploitation of employees with both permanent and fixed-term contracts in the sector. The strike did not obstruct the court sessions as, according to Union’s President Sladjanka Milosevic, only the administration staff took part in it. At the moment the Union has more than 11,000 members.
One of the issues the strikers put on the agenda was the over-exploitation of the administrative staff which, although having no required expertise, is constantly under pressure to accomplish tasks highly exceeding their qualifications (e.g. some highly important official documents are to be written and even signed by them). Those with fixed-term contracts are in a very specific situation as granting them the status of permanent employees is forbidden by the law. Although the duration of fixed-time contracts has been limited to only six months, that rule is often violated and one sees them continuously prolonged, sometimes up to 10 or 15 years. “The employment ban imposed by the Government to public sector was respected only in the judicial system, while the police and local governments have been permanently employing new staff”, said Milosevic. The last but not the least problem is the lack of evaluation of risks at the work place, which employers – according to the Law on Occupational Health and Safety - are obliged to do. It’s absurd that within judiciary system so many employers are prosecuted for such negligence, while the Ministry of Justice is violating the law itself!
Another problem the Union wanted to point to was the lack of administrative employees. One attorney is assisted “by only 1.4 workers”, Milosevic explained, adding that “the 1.4 includes a driver, a courier, a minute taker and some others”. “Often the minute taker has to run from one session to another”, said she, concluding that “in such circumstances the fight against crime can hardly be efficient”.
The Union had met with Minister Kuburovic a week ago, but with no palpable result. In a statement issued after the meeting, the Minister said that a transformation of fixed time contracts to permanent ones was impossible (with some exceptions e.g. typists). The unions can hardly accept such lack of understanding and are ready to go on making the Ministry respect the legislation it is supposed to protect.

First Court Ruling in Pensioners-Government Dispute

10. January 2019  •530•    Further

Although the law on pension reduction allowing the Government to seize enormous means from Serbian pensioners between 2015 and 2018 was annulled, it will be rather difficult to appease them. The Association of Pensioners’ Trade Unions (affiliated to CATUS) has been trying for many years to sue the Government at the Constitutional Court, but the Court gave no response. Still, there is good news for the elderly, as the municipal court in North Serbian city of Backa Palanka issued a ruling in an individual case requiring the Government to pay to one of the robbed pensioners a sum of 350,000 dinars (3000 euros), plus 53,000 dinars (450 euros) in the form of interest and 73,000 dinars (620 euros) for covering court costs. According to judges, the Pension Fund was obliged to issue to each of the pensioners affected by the law a written decision and indicate to them how to appeal against it – which was not done.
President of the Association, Radovic, is rather enthusiastic about the ruling, but says it was not the first victory and points to the two preceding it. He says that ‘the Government made a mistake by not consulting them before adopting the law, because they foresaw pretty well what would happen when courts start doing their job properly. The main culprit for current anarchy in Serbia is the Constitutional Court, which has been refusing for five years to put their lawsuits on the agenda. So far, there have been 50,000 to 70,000 of them, but after these positive rulings, I am sure there will be many more, possibly up to 700,000”.
If it happens, the Government might regret seizing pensioners’ money, because some economists estimate that budget might lose up to one billion euros in compensations and accrued interests. More than 850,000 pensioners and their successors were affected in 2014 by the 10% reduction of pensions exceeding 25,000 dinars (210 euros). The fact that Government’s indebtedness towards them could be further increased by the amount earned by not adapting pensions (since 2012) to the ever increasing cost of living, can only aggravate the situation.
Fallowing the rumours saying that Constitutional Court might declare the pensioners’ issue obsolete after a period of three years, the pensioners’ associations are ready to appeal to their members and invite them to submit lawsuits as soon as possible.