CATUS in Global Campaign for the
Ratification of ILO Convention 190

5. March 2021  •661•    Further

Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia joins global campaign for the elimination of violence against women and demands that urgent and decisive steps are taken. We demand from the Government of the Republic of Serbia to urgently initiate the ratification procedure for the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment in the world of work which was adopted by the International Labour Organization at its 108th conference.
The issue of violence and harassment is more and more frequently found in collective agreements around Europe and Government’s responsibility is to secure a supportive framework for collective bargaining at all levels.
Violence against women, violence against all workers must be stopped! Work freed of violence for all represents the respect of international standards and civilizational achievement. In the 21st century it is impermissible to vex, harass, disturb, perform mobbing on anyone, and least of all women who are most often the victims.
CATUS joins the invitation of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) sent to the European Commission, to stop violence against women, including the ratification of ILO Convention 190, as well as full implementation of EC Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, which was passed in Istanbul on May 11, 2011, and confirmed by Serbia almost a decade ago.

ILO Convention 190

CATUS Requests Withdrawal
of the Seasonal Employment Law

2. March 2021  •660•    Further

Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia points out that the draft of the Seasonal Employment Law regulating seasonal and temporary work in certain industries completely abolishes fundamental labour rights stemming from employment, makes the existence of the Labour Law pointless and transforms workers into permanent seasonal, i.e. temporary workers.
In the letter to the Labour Minister, Darija Kisić Tepavčević, CATUS asked for a withdrawal of the draft and a new text to be made by the Ministry staff, without any hurry, in cooperation with representative trade unions and Serbian Employers’ Association so that we could have the law which would solve the issue of the employment of seasonal workers the right way and provide them with protection, just remuneration and adequate working conditions.

JCC Adopted Joint Declaration

19. February 2021  •659•    Further

The eleventh meeting of the EU-Serbia Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) took place in February. Current situation of the relationship between EU and Serbia and negotiations in the EU accession process, EC Progress Report 2020, situation in civil society and rule of law were discussed at the meeting. JCC adopted Joint Declaration with 17 votes for and one abstention vote.
Regarding background information, in line with the Stabilization and Association Agreement JCC was established between EU and Serbia. This body consisting of 18 members (9 representatives of the European Economic and Social Council and 9 representatives of Serbian Civil Society) enables civil society organisations to follow the accession process and give their opinion and recommendations to the Government of Serbia and EU institutions. It also includes the representatives of trade unions, employers’ organisations and NGOs.
The importance of civil society in the accession process, necessary reforms oriented towards democratization and transparency with long-term results, election conditions that need to be seriously dealt with, were pointed out at the meeting. EU offered support to Serbia in overcoming the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and measures that were taken produced good results. Also, considerable sums were allocated (70 million euros) for the vaccination and provisions of vaccines even though there are delays in the delivery in the EU region, as well.
The application of new methodology in the accession process, which was accepted by Serbia, is important in the sense of speeding up the process and greater interaction with the clusters. By the new methodology, the measure of success and progress in accession will no longer be the opening of SAA chapters, but the interaction in the clusters of economic and structural reforms and commitment to the accession process, including the creation of road map throughout the process. The appeal goes to European institutions and member states to continue offering support to the implementation of EU accession policy measures. Besides, Portugal, currently presiding the Council, is invited, the same as Slovenia which will take over the presidency, to continue maintaining a full swing in the accession process and to host as soon as possible the inter-government conference with Serbia, where future steps will be considered in line with the accession methodology. The importance of the debate at the Assembly on the EU Report is emphasized, as well as the establishment of such practice in the following period.
JCC members pointed out to good economic results, as well as the efforts to realize the idea of establishing better business environment through regional cooperation and promotion of the region as a unique investment destination. The activities were oriented towards providing support for initiatives within the regional economic area on the Western Balkans.
Regarding the situation of civil society, the need for more transparency and genuine dialogue was underlined. Having in mind that the safety of journalists is at risk, the new strategy on the media was welcomed, as well as the establishment of a work group for the protection of journalists, but also its real and full implementation.
According to the written agreement, safety, as well as decent and timely payment of salary and adequate solution of labour market issues such as the regulation of telework and informal economy, the principle of decent work is extremely important. State bodies of the Republic of Serbia are required to take necessary measures and actively include social partners in the provision of decent working conditions in a healthy business environment without corruption and with a higher employment protection level so that the biggest challenges on the Serbian labour market could be overcome, among which the biggest challenges are the brain drain and migration of labour force. Concern caused by the vision of the National Employment Strategy 2021-2026, which clearly represents a step back because the allocated resources for active employment measures are set at only 0.2% of GDP in 2026, was expressed.
Dialogue between civil society and institutions needs to be genuine and proposals/recommendations containing criticism need to be taken into consideration. Early inclusion of social partners in the creation of law by the line ministries is necessary because it increases the quality of the debate at the Social and Economic Council (SEC). It is important that draft laws which are discussed at the SEC are delivered to the National Assembly together with recommendations and opinion of the SEC. The importance of time that must not be wasted when it comes to reforms was pointed out and it was added that it required political will from both sides – both decision makers and Government of Serbia, and EU institutions.
DECLARATION

More Women Are Working in
Low Paid Professions

17. February 2021  •658•    Further

There are more women than men working in professions that are low paid – health, social protection and now we realize how important these sectors actually are and I hope that these professions will be much more respected’, estimated the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Brankica Janković. In her interview for the National News Janković explained that in her job she regularly encountered the complaints of young women who could not find work precisely because they were young and employers’ first thought was that the woman would soon go on her maternity leave.
She also said that a woman looking for a job was not to be asked if she was married, if she was planning to have children. ‘This bears no importance for the job. To me it is nonsensical that you ask a woman aged 25 or 26 if she was planning to have a family and a baby. Many employers learned they must not ask that question’, Janković has pointed out.
Concerning employment, Janković said that there was a huge generation gap, especially in the category of women older than 55, where only 40% of them were employed. 'It is already a lot more difficult to find work if you are older than 45 because some employers consider you to be an old worker, not the one who is precisely in the prime of life when he/she could do their best, and this is because of the prejudice that you would be less efficient, not ready to learn about new technologies, which is a phenomenon predominantly affecting women, Janković has added.
‘We conducted a couple of cases where discrimination was clearly detected because women older than 45 were transferred to lower paying positions, for example this is the case of nurses because general opinion is that they would not be able to learn to keep records in the new way. It is all a prejudice. Both men and women want to learn’, Janković has emphasized.

Work from Home:
Will Employers Keep All Work Places?

8. February 2021  •657•    Further

In Serbia work from home is a forced option that emerged during the pandemic. However, as long as it is justified as a protection from infection, more and more employees think that employers expect them to be available all the time, says the President of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia Ljubisav Orbović for biznis.rs.
He explains he is worried about whether work from home would become a new normal after the pandemic is over, adding it has already been proven that many people can do their job from their homes.
„Some employers have already estimated that it doesn’t pay off to pay for the lease of offices, their maintenance and this is all right for some jobs. Nevertheless, the fact that most employees do not have the possibility to separate business space in their apartments represents the problem, states Orbović.
„There is also a danger that employers won’t be willing to keep a part of jobs any longer, but will rather ask their employees to establish their own businesses so that they could cooperate in the future. This could cause huge problems for some employees because there are people who do their job well but lack entreprising spirit or are not capable of starting their own business. On the other hand, those having these skills will probably use this opportunity in the near future, concluded Orbović.
According to the latest estimates, a half of active working population in the world will continue working from home in 2021.

Validity of BCA for
Road Maintenance Industry Prolonged

5. February 2021  •656•    Further

The validity of the branch collective agreement (BCA) covering road maintenance industry workers has been extended for another three years. The agreement was signed in the premises of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia.
On the behalf of the Autonomous Trade Union of Road Maintenance Industry Workers and representative Association of Employers in Road Maintenance Industry ‘PUTAR’, Duško Bošković and Zvonimir Marković signed the agreement.
This way the validity of the BCA, which was supposed to expire in March this year, was prolonged till March 2024.
This is an important agreement in the real sector covering 10,000 employees in the road maintenance industry of Serbia.

New Employment Strategy without Trade Union?

4. February 2021  •655•    Further

As it had been earlier announced, 2021-2026 Employment Strategy was supposed to be adopted till the end of January and a public debate was organised to discuss this strategic document. In the meantime positions of ministries were gathered and now the Social and Economic Council is expected to make a final decision, after which the draft will be presented for adoption.
The main goal is to enable continuous employment growth and special attention will be paid to vulnerable groups: youth, women, people with disabilities. CATUS representatives took part in the creation of this document but it is to be seen whether trade union’s proposals will be adopted.
“We demanded that a way to motivate unemployed people to register more often at the National Employment Agency had to be found, all registers on employed and unemployed people in the country bound together, National Employment Agency needed to have insight into the resources collected based on contributions and their use and finally employer’s payment of contributions in case of unemployment had to be reinstated ”, says Sanja Paunović, from CATUS, for Politika.
In the new Strategy Draft it is mentioned that in 2019 a ratio of the long-term unemployed out of the overall number of the unemployed, as recorded by the National Employment Agency, was 66% and the rate of long-term unemployment was 6.1%. At the end of 2026 it is expected that through the implementation of this Strategy the ratio of the long-term unemployed will be 61% and the rate of long-term unemployment will amount to 1,9%, which representS a 5% reduction, more precisely 4.2% compared to the previous period. As envisaged by the Active Employment Policy, in 2026 the plan is to allocate 0.2% of GDP resources, compared to 2019 when the portion amounted to 0.08% of GDP resources.
As the public debate is soon coming to an end, Work Group of the National Convention on the EU explained that the draft of the National Employment Strategy 2021-2026 represented a step back compared to the previous strategy where the targeted value equalled 0.5% of the GDP. Such small sums will keep Serbia at Europe’s back. In 2018 Active Employment Policy Measures included 5.1% out of 100 unemployed people while Romania had the smallest coverage (5.3%) and Belgium the largest (76.5%). The coverage in 2019 fell to 4.7% - says the announcement.
Even though EC Serbia progress Report for 2020 says that there is ‘a lack of financial and institutional resources for employment and social policy’ and strategy goals include labour market inclusion, decent work and high quality jobs, proposed measures do not lead to the realization of those goals.
“While previous strategy defined goals that aimed to improve the status of 10 vulnerable groups, among which there are Roma people, returners by the re-admission agreement, rural population, internal migrants and refugees and redundant workers, new strategy draft proposes measures for only four groups: social benefit users, women, youth and people with disabilities”, reminds Work Group of the National Convention on the EU.

Fatigue, Stress and Testing
Responsible for Black Statistics

1. February 2021  •654•    Further

Data gathered by the Trade Union of Doctors and Pharamcists of Serbia (SLFS) confirm that up to now 73 doctors have died and the list of deaths keeps growing.
Infectologists, Lejla Ćeranić, who at one point during the most severe epidemiologic wave was the only specialist of infectology in Novi Pazar hospital, and Jovana Milić, associate-scientist at the Unversity of Modena and Reggio Emilia, say that there are many reasons which contributed to a huge number of deceased people - from fatigue to the lack of routine tests for health workers.
– The number of deceased doctors in Serbia is worrying, especially if compared to the region where in Slovenia not a single doctor died and in Croatia one death was recorded. This number is also worrying compared to the overall number of inhabitants in Serbia and the number of infected people which was officially published. In Italy by the middle of September 174 doctors died out of 17,000 infected. We don’t have data for Serbia on how many doctors had been infected by corona virus since the beginning of the epidemic. Just the same as we don’t have the data on the infection and death of other health workers and assistants working in health institutions, explains Jovana Milić.
At the beginning of the epidemic the news on deceased doctors arrived periodically while in the last wave not a single day passed without news that another doctor who was infected by corona virus passed away.
Infectologist Lejla Ćeranić comments that out of her own experience she knows that if hospitals are full, doctors can barely protect themselves from infection.
– During the worst situation in Novi Pazar 100 health workers were infected. We didn’t have a sufficient number of doctors nor medical workers. In the red zone I had full protective equipment but could I take care of how I’m taking it off and putting it on, when the most important thing was to examine all those patients who were incessantly arriving? Nobody could even respect the rule of exiting the red zone after four hours. I spent ten, eleven hours wearing a protective suit. The moment when more doctors were included, we were relieved. Then we realized that it was all about good organization, says Ćeranić.
Jovana Milić also warns that being overburdened puts doctors at risk of getting ill.
– I know that one doctor takes care of 40 patients taking oxygen. Just knowing that you are responsible for 40 lives puts a huge pressure on you. And to make right decisions for yourself and others, it is necessary to be rested, says Milić.
She adds that in Italy most medical workers got infected, not in red but in green zones, getting into contact with the infected whether in the very health institution or out of their work place. Among other things, the measures taken in this country entail regular PCR testing.
– Non-covid patients going into hospitals in Italy need to have a negative PCR test. I know that for some time in Serbia the condition for getting into hospital was to have a negative serologic test and afterwards a negative antigen test. These tests are cheaper than PCR test but are also less reliable, so it could happen that an infected person is not detected if a testee is someone not having symptoms. Therefore, it is possible that some doctors could get infected that way. Finally, I don’t know how often medical workers are routinely tested in Serbia. In Italy doctors take PCR tests every two weeks, sometimes more often, so that those infected could be detected on time, says Milić.
Besides the names of deceased doctors which were published by the Trade Union of Doctors and Pharmacists of Serbia and Serbian Medical Chamber, up to now not a single serious research has been done to give answers to the question whether and why the doctors were additionally at risk during the pandemic. Lejla Ćeranić stresses that these questions demand an answer which is not hard to get if everybody does their job.
– It is necessary to compare deaths of doctors to the deaths of general population in order to see if there is a significant difference. We have to know what happened – is our health system in such a catastrophic state? But this is the job for the specialists who don’t work with patients, namely for statisticians, epidemiologists, social medicine specialists, concludes Ćeranić.

Immeasurable Losses of Serbian Tourism –
Many Experiencing Overdraft for Months

27. January 2021  •653•    Further

Around the world corona virus pandemic had the biggest effect on tourism and it seems that catering and event organizing industry experienced the most severe impact. Results that Serbian tourism achieved in the record-breaking 2019 were promising that the following year tourism in Serbia would have its most successful season.
Even though there were attempts to make up for the lack of foreign tourists by Serbs who decided to spend their summer holiday in Serbia, corona virus epidemic made tourism yearn for sector aid and made tourist industry consider new security measures for passengers, as well as change its way of functioning.
According to the first findings presented in spring, six-month damage in tourism is estimated to around 300 million euros. Considering the data of the line ministry, at the end of 2020 the overall damage in tourism was estimated to a billion euros but it is difficult to make a precise estimate because the losses in entertainment industry and catering were immeasurable. Data of Serbian Business Registers Agency show that in April 2020 there were nearly 8,000 legal entities operating in tourism/catering and around 26,000 entrepreneurs, and statistically speaking, the number of expected events in 2020 was around 17,000. They were either cancelled or moved to 2021. The number of employees in the whole ‘event’ industry was about 10,000 working full-time and 50,000 part-time, i.e. seasonally, and as estimated by the group of event organisers, where only ‘EXIT’ festival annually makes 20 million euros, generated tourist and business profit was about 250 million euros in the entertainment tourism.
Sector of organizing events, manifestations, congresses, weddings, catering services, decoration agencies, confectioners, wedding dress shops, together with the sector of night clubs and bars came to a halt, meaning that there was a ban on gathering and working and the ban is still in force, which leads to enormous losses not only in Serbia but worldwide.
Besides catering and entertainment, other tourism segments, , such as air traffic, nautical tourism, lodging services including hostels, mountain homes, categorized flats in cities, hotels as the biggest foreign and domestic investments in Serbia, tourist agencies, guides, producers of souvenirs, transport services (rent-a-car agencies) work with 5% of their capacities and have been sustaining 100% loss for months…

State Aid for Unemployed,
Minimum Wage for Employees

25. January 2021  •652•    Further

New state aid package for the economy and citizens which is supposed to alleviate the consequences caused by the pandemic will also include the unemployed, announced by ‘Večernje novosti’.
As we have found out, this vulnerable category of citizens will receive a certain sum while the Government of the Republic of Serbia is intensively working in order to define proposals and decide on the amount which will be allocated for this purpose.
Regarding support for citizens, which last year amounted to 100 euros for all those who agreed to it, Finance Minister Siniša Mali said they would consider it if it proved to be necessary.
Certain experts deny this measure because they think money should be spent purposefully to help the most vulnerable categories of population.
By the middle of February new aid package will be defined. According to the announcements, support for the economy at large is being considered. This means that 1,05 million employees could get a half of minimum wage two or three times, in other words 32,000 – 48,000 dinars.
As it was announced, throughout the year new package of measures will also include the support for the oldest citizens. Economy will continue to be credited through the guarantee scheme.

Trade Unions in Chinese ‘Zijin’ Warn about
Drastic Reduction of Extra Payments and Salaries

20. January 2021  •651•    Further

We got the news from Bor that on the occasion of signing the new collective agreement the management of the company „Zijin copper Bor” plans to cancel numerous extra payments and thus considerably decrease workers’ monthly salaries. The company’s “offer” was assessed by the unions as “indecent and unacceptable”. Majority owner of the Bor company is the Chinese corporation „Zijin“, with 63% of ownership, while the remaining 37% are owned by the Serbian Government.
Management suggests that the annual leave should be 28 working days at most, the paid leave up to five days and paid leave for voluntary blood donors two, instead of five working days. Basic salary should no longer be based on the coefficients of the work place, whose value was determined according to the type and level of education, job complexity, responsibility and working conditions, nor the agreed per hour wage would follow the increase of the national per hour minimum wage, as it was suggested by a decision of the Social and Economic Council of Serbia.
Extra payments would be reduced to the legal minimum, even when one has to work on state and religious holiday or Miners’ Day (from 150% down to 110%) and from 35% down to 26%, when working at night or overtime. It has also been suggested that the payment for the years of service should be reduced by 63.77% and the severance pay to two, instead of three average wages. Jubilee prizes would disappear and the gift for a newborn, that once equalled three average net salaries, would be turned into a simple 60,000 dinars (508 euros) solidarity aid. Employees’ participation in the company’s profit would also be abolished.
Workers are worried about the possible changes and ready to support the unions in the fight for their rights, which the investors, regardless of the country of their origin, are always ready to limit or even cancel.

CATUS Gave Support to the
Association of Workers on Internet

19. January 2021  •650•    Further

On the occasion of the protest of the Association of Workers on Internet, scheduled on January 16, 2021, the CATUS issued the following statement:
“We extend our support to all workers who have been courageously acquiring their knowledge and work experience in the tough global competition over Internet. Being exposed to everyday competition from around the world, they have been supporting their family members and themselves, while contributing to the resources and reputation of the Republic of Serbia.
Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia has always been advocating for the realization of all workers’ rights. At the time of industrial revolution 4.0, especially now during the corona virus pandemic when digitalization of business and work from home are omnipresent, we have to follow current trends and contributе to social dialogue in non-standard forms of work. For the delayed charge of up to 80% of Internet workers’ overall income earned for the past five years, cannot exclusively be blamed the workers, who earned their income at the time of high general unemployment and restricted employment in the public sector. We think it is not fair to impose such humiliating taxes to those who found a way to secure their existence without leaving the country.
Therefore, we again demand from the Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Serbia to determine the taxes for these workers justly and determine the way to protect their labour and social rights through social dialogue and participation of the Association of Workers on Internet.
A good news is that Prime Minister Brnabic accepted to start negotiations with representatives of the Association soon.

Government Covers One More Minimum
Wage in Tourism and Catering

16. December 2020  •648•    Further

The amount, equalling to 30,367 dinars (257 euros) was paid yesterday to all employees whose companies (12,037 of them) had been entitled to such assistance. The total number of beneficiaries, working mostly in tourist and rent-a-car agencies, restaurants and hotels, is 72,500 and they will be paid through special bank accounts. The action is to be continued until February 15 next year, after which the accounts will be closed.
All working in the above mentioned sectors will have the right to get a state-sponsored minimum wage, in case their company applied for the assistance and saw its claim approved. The sums will be paid by the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Communications.
The companies may lose the right to assistance for two reasons: if they dismiss more than 10% of staff between December 5 this year and January 31 next year (the temporary workers not entering the calculation), or use the acquired means for purposes other than the payment of wages. The fulfillment of obligations, stipulated by the agreement signed with the Government, will be monitored by the Ministry of Finance.
This is the sixth state-paid minimum wage since the beginning of the pandemic. Although the Government is often widely criticized for its neoliberal practices, this move has been approved by the public as one contributing to the economic recovery and satisfaction of workers’ basic needs. One of its results is that only a thousand workers lost their jobs, thus far.
Following the example of many EU states, Serbian government has spent 700 billion dinars (6 billion euros) combatting the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, which in a country such as ours is a considerable sum. Praising their policy, they insist on the fact that according to the IMF estimates Serbia will be the country with most rapid recovery in Europe. Still, it is not quite clear what will be the effect of government measures on public debt and how the deficit is to be covered.

Joint Activities of CATUS and Association
of Workers on Internet Agreed

15. December 2020  •648•    Further

At the invitation of the CATUS, the Council Vice-President, Duško Vuković, and the President of the Association of Workers on Internet, Miran Pogačar, discussed the acute problems of workers on the Internet and considered the ways to expand their cooperation.
They agreed on joint activities aimed at reaching an agreement on taxation with the representatives of executive power, which would reflect the complexity of the current sanitary and economic crisis, as well as workers' financial capacities.
This was the first move of our Confederation directed towards this category of employees, whose number is constantly growing and rights being neglected.

December Pay Rise for
Public Sector Employees

7. December 2020  •647•    Further

This December employees in the public sector will get a pay rise, which means that basic amount for the calculation and payment of their January pay in 2021 will be increased by 10% and thus fixed, it will be higher by 5% starting from December 2020 pay. This will cover the employees in health institutions, military health system, health protection employees in social security institutions, doctors working in prisons, health carers in social security institutions and health workers in Serbian Institute of Sport and Sports Medicine.
In 2021 other public sector employees, i.e. those working in the mandatory social security institutions, will see their pays increased by 3.5%, starting from their December 2020 pay and the basic amount for the calculation and payment of the pay will be increased by 5%, starting from March 2021 pay.

CATUS Victory:
Without Penalty Points for Redundancies

5. December 2020  •646•    Further

Workers who left the entreprises taking a social program ‘two years to pension’ and ‘five years to pension’ will no longer pay penalty points for their acquired pension, but in the future the pension will be paid in full amount.
This was agreed at the meeting with the Minister of Labour, Veteran and Social Affairs, Darija Kisić Tepavčević, President and Seceretary of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, Ljubisav Orbović and Zoran Mihajlović.
We are talking about 6,300 workers who left the entreprises throughout the period 2010 – 2014 due to being redundant and their pensions were unfairly reduced. These are former workers of Zastava factories in Kragujevac, „14. October“ in Kruševac, „Goša“ in Smederevska Palanka, „Sloboda“ in Čačak and others.
New Labour Minister showed understanding and willingness to solve this problem, to which our trade union has been constantly pointing out for the past five years.

CATUS: Include Social Partners in Crisis Headquarters

1. December 2020  •645•    Further

Having in mind that factories, entreprises and institutions around Serbia are increasingly becoming the focus of corona virus epidemic, Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia is taking the initiative to include regional and local representatives of social partners in the crisis headquarters responsible for the elimination of COVID-19.
This decision was taken at the Presidency session, held on November 27, where the main topic on the agenda was working in corona conditions.
Presidency members presented information about the situation in their branch, i.e. territory, about the number of infected people, the level to which health and safety measures are applied and respected at the work place. General impression is that workers are not taken care of, there is a big number of those infected and trade union needs to insist that measures protecting workers be respected and possibly pass a concrete rulebook on corona.

Annex to Collective Agreement for Culture Signed

26. Novemberber 2020  •644•    Further

The annex allowing a 100% compensation of the salary in case of COVID-19 infection was signed by the representatives of trade unions of culture and the authorities.
This extremely important addition to the branch collective agreement provides the employees with 100% salary, which is calculated on the basis of the average salary they earned in 12 months preceding the month when a temporary impediment to work due to the confirmed COVID-19 infection occurred or the isolation/self-isolation measures, ordered in relation to the disease, were taken. All of this in case the disease has appeared as a consequence of a direct exposure to risks related to the performance of work tasks, i.e. to the fulfillment of official duties or to contacts with people whose infection has been confirmed (or who were ordered to be isolated or self-isolated).
The annex to the agreement was signed by the Vice-President of the Government of Serbia and Minister of Culture and Information, Maja Gojković, and the representatives of the Trade Union of Culture of Serbia (member of the CATUS), Sectoral Trade Union of Culture, Art and Media „Nezavisnost“ and sectoral trade union of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
The Minister pointed to the fact that the annex secured a full monthly salary to the employees who got infected, which in current circumstances is quite important. „This way we wanted to show clearly that, while making citizens enjoy cultural contents despite the pandemic, we are ready to take our responsibilities and show how much we appreciate the employees’ work and efforts, too”, she said.
Gojković also talked to trade union representatives about the measures taken by the Crisis Headquarters, while the unionists, for their part, supported her idea to have a representative of the Ministry of Culture and Information in the Crisis Headquarters, enabling him/her to interpret the measures taken to those working in different sectors of the artistic creation.

Unlawful dismissals in Austrian “Zumtobel”

22. Novemberber 2020  •643•    Further

The number of dismissed workers has risen to 19, as the company tries to justify its move by the effects of the corona virus pandemic. The unions reacted immediately insisting on the obligation of employers not to dismiss anyone after receiving financial assistance from the government. They reject the employers’ explanation saying they employed more workers than it was stipulated by an agreement signed with the government and point out to 7,500 euros the government granted to company for each new work place.
The worst is that this has not been the end of the dismissal chain: some facts which leaked to media point to other 30 dismissals in the future, mostly in the sector specialized for the production of electric bulbs for export. This decrease of export has exactly been the reason justifying the dismissals. “Following the agreement, in 2020 we employed more people than it had been stipulated. COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected our production, reduced demand for our products and forced us to dismiss some of our colleagues. Each of them, however, got a severance pay”, said the representative of the company.
On the contrary, the unions insist that company must give back to the budget the money it got from the government. “They got it only after having signed not to dismiss workers”, they say and add: “One should also not forget that they used different kinds of pressure to make employees “voluntarily resign” and paid them a severance pay of only 1300 euros per person”.
“Zumtobel” started its production in Nis in September 2018, after signing an agreement wherein they guaranteed the employment of 1,100 workers in the next three to five years.

Kosovo and Metohija: Workers’ Struggle Goes On

18. Novemberber 2020  •642•    Further

Struggle against the violation of workers’ rights and the exploitation can never be totally obfuscated by the nationalist rhetoric. Confronted with rapacious local politicians plundering for years the ex-workers property in Serbian southern Autonomous Province, the trade union of Kosovo postal and Telecom employees (PTK) organized an impressive rally in front of the provincial government and asked for the unblocking of the company’s bank account and payment of all outstanding wages. The unionist said they expected a government promise on safeguarding the company from the bankruptcy. Employees carried banners with inscriptions such as “We are not poor, we got robbed!”, “Mr. Public Prosecutor, do your job!” and “Our children need bread!”
One of the protesters, Fuad Hadxiu, said he came to the rally because he was not paid for the last two months. “I am deprived of my work and it’s our management and politicians’ mistake. They let the company go bankrupt and left us without salaries. At the same time we all have credits to be disbursed, which is impossible if we have no money left”.
President of the PTK trade union, Lamih Balaj, was resolute: workers would not go away until they saw their claims accepted - in spite of the anti-COVID-19 regulation forbidding mass gatherings. “Those who signed contracts that pushed our company into bankruptcy were appointed to their posts by the ruling party, which now has obligation to unblock our account and assume their responsibility. They should be ashamed of cashing their per diems without being ready to adopt a law on post and telecom, as they did in case of other public enterprises”. He concluded by saying that workers are “sick of politicians who steal and expect workers to pay for it”.
There are 2,300 employees in Telecom and 1,100 in the Post whose existence depends on the fate of these companies. In order to understand the extent of the possible catastrophe one should also take into account their family members and all the others whose companies survive by cooperating with the PTK.
The rally was not approved by the police but they did not intervene, as workers kept the prescribed distance. At the end of the today’s round, President Balaj confirmed the employees’ intention to go on with the protest until the full realization of their claims.

Air Serbia: 20% of the Staff to Be Dismissed

15. Novemberber 2020  •641•    Further

On November 10, the management informed the staff about a new program of voluntary retirement, promising a redundancy package better than one prescribed by the Labour Law. At the same time, they announced a decrease in salaries from December to March next year, the exact amount of which would vary depending on the position held in the company. Although the news is still to be officially confirmed, the calculations hinting at 300 redundancies have already been made.
The company justifies its behavior by the fact that in spite of their past effort to reduce the expenses and thus mitigate the effects of the corona pandemic, the costs grew so high that they have become unbearable. Still, the dismissals are happening at the time when 150 million euros from Serbian budget are being conceded to Air Serbia to cover the cost of credits that are to be disbursed this year and compensate for the losses that company could suffer next year due to the never-heard-of-before crisis in the air transport. Although it’s not known whether this move was autonomous or caused by the pressures coming from the government, the experts agree that it was done too late. Other companies did it long ago. The Emirates, for example, dismissed 50% of the staff without reducing the salaries, while some other companies reduced all salaries by 40% to 60% without dismissing anyone. The exception is the Wizz air, which is planning to substitute a number of other companies on the European market.
It was clear from the beginning that the pandemic would not stop quickly and could make the crisis last until 2022 or even 2024, say the experts. This year the general turn-over suffered the 40% to 50% decrease and the winter will be a full disaster. The companies calculated that it would not pay off to keep the redundancies for two or three more years and decided to dismiss them. They know very well that after the crisis is over they will find them again on the labour market and pay them less than now because of their fragile position.
Our economist Milan Kovacevic does not share that conviction. He thinks that many of the employees who opted for the voluntary retirement scheme will be badly needed by the companies in the post-corona times and might ask to be paid more than before. While criticizing the lack of transparency concerning the expenses not related to the labour cost, he is also skeptical about the capability of public enterprises to analyse and foresee the future development and needs.

Digital Work: Freelancers’
Protest against the New Tax

10. Novemberber 2020  •640•    Further

The protest letter dealing with the retroactive payment of taxes and a regulation of the freelancers’ status, was handed over to the Ministry of Finance. The employees’ association is rather new – it was established only last month, after the Tax Department had announced that all those who had been paid by foreign clients for their work via Internet, would have to pay taxes and contributions to social funds for last five years! However, the freelancers claim that the Law on citizens’ income of 2001, which prescribes the taxation of all income coming from abroad, was completely unknown to the majority of them. Many say they were never informed about how it worked, while those who knew of its existence claim they had never been instructed how to duly effect payments. The average amount to be paid by the majority of freelencers is around 10,000 euros, which is a considerable sum, according to Serbian criteria.
The government decision on demanding the payment of taxes on all income coming from abroad was meant for the whole body of tax-payers, but it affects mostly those working in the IT sector. That is why they organized themselves, elected a negotiation team and started gathering votes for a petition named “Do not destroy the IT sector!” It says:
“Our sector kept on growing even during the COVID-19 pandemic and is one with best perspectives. It offers great possibilities to Serbian economy and could speed up its recovery. Unfortunately, the government has been short-sighted and insists on out-of-date legislation which could cost some of us even 80% of our income and make us work informally, abandon Serbia or try to register our companies in one of the tax havens. Contrary to other countries’ practices, where governments ease tax burden in the sector and even subsidize its businesses - our politicians put unnecessary obstacles in our way, try to rob us and send us to the exile - at the same time when they subsidize companies employing cheap labour force. Thus, in the era of digital revolution they offer people manual and unqualified jobs.
Let the free and independent people add new value and help the recovery of the country, making it a place where the citizens will not be a burden, but an engine moving the whole society ahead.”

Urgent Need to Improve Regulation of Telework

5. Novemberber 2020  •639•    Further

Although the number of employees working from home in Serbia has been constantly growing and is currently three times higher than at the outbreak of the pandemic, the telework has not been regulated so far. In a recent interview, the well-known expert in labour relations, employed in the Institute of Social Sciences, Nada Novakovic, spoke about difficulties that the lack of regulation implied and the possibility of amending the existing Labour Law.
According to the last data, there were 134,000 employees working at home in 2019. However, in April 2020 their number has gone up to more than 400,000, which is round 15% of the working population. “In Serbia, the work online usually implies the absence of decent work and rights to privacy, health insurance and free movement. The working time has not been regulated, which facilitates the exploitation of employees who should be enabled to negotiate their working conditions and have prescribed number of rest hours”, said Novakovic, renowned for her bitter criticism of capitalist practices.
She insists that “the amendments to the Labour Law should permit the precise definition of elements such as working time, rules of behavior, ways of monitoring the employees and payment for the increased risk” and gives examples of Switzerland, where the employers cover 20% of the employees’ house rent and France, where they lost the right to contact them out of working hours.
She also used the interview to criticize the government for not taking enough care of single moms, workers with low wages and strengthening of Labour Inspection.

Risk of Poverty Rate in Serbia 23.2% in 2019

28. October 2020  •638•    Further

Not long ago we celebrated the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, with 130 million persons added to the existing list of 690 million already suffering from hunger. At the same time, the risk of poverty rate (or social exclusion rate) in Serbia in 2019 reached the appalling 23.2%, However, some optimism was brought by the fact that it was 1.1% less than a year before, according to the Republic Statistical Office.
In Serbia, a household risking poverty is considered to be the one living on 162 euros per month (if it is a single-member one), 291 euros (if it is composed of two adults and a child up to 14 years of age) or 340 euros (if it includes two adults and two children up to 14 years of age).
Exposed to poverty were mostly the youngsters up to 18 years of age (28.9%) and those between 18 and 24 (25.6%). Astonishingly, the rate was lowest among the elders above 65 – 21.1%.
Taking into consideration the categories of households, the mostly affected were those with two adults and three or more unemployed children (51.9%) and those with one adult only and one or more unemployed kids (41.6%).
There is also a big difference among various social groups. At risk are mostly the unemployed (47.5%), the self-employed (25.9%) and the pensioners (17.2%), while the employers (6.5%) are quite safe.
The picture becomes more realistic when one adds to these categories those 350.000 workers whose families live with the minimum wage and those 1.6 million (two thirds of our work force) who get wages which are under the average one. One has always to bear in mind that even the average wage in Serbia is far from being sufficient to secure decent life, especially if there are members of the family who are unemployed, which is often the case.
Government plans the introduction of the “social card” where all data concerning income and property should be gathered. That would enable the poor to be helped in a more transparent and just manner. The problem is that such idea has been cherished by all Serbian governments for 50 years and has never been realised.
The government’s one-way economic policy which tries to attract the foreign capital by promises of cheap labour and poor workers’ rights - fully inspired by the neoliberal model – is obviously not giving results.

What is the Real Number of Unemployed in Serbiad

20. October 2020  •637•    Further

Mario Reljanovic, our famous expert in labour relations, has recently commented on the fact that, according to a Government inquiry, the number of unemployed decreased by 87,400 in the second semester of this year. It’s true, he says, that certain number of doctors and nurses were employed during the Covid-19 crisis, but it’s also a fact that many unemployed who lost their job were not registered in the Central Register, due to the informal nature of their work. “Judging by some available facts, the number of those who do not work might be at the level of 47%”, he adds.
Reljanovic is skeptical about the methodology used for “counting” the unemployed, accusing it of relying too much on the “subjective feeling of the interviewees. If you ask them whether they had some work last week and were paid in cash or in kind, they might respond positively, which in many cases is absurd”, he says. (According to a Serbian joke, by using this criterion one could get registered as an employed for trimming neighbour’s hedge two hours a month and getting as a reward two bottles of beer.) Here all depends on the interviewees’ subjective feeling of being employed, and it’s wrong because it makes the real number of unemployed differ a lot from the number of those who are officially registered at the National Employment Agency. The fact that all those working in the informal sector, often intermittently and without a salary enabling them to survive are also considered employed, certainly doesn’t help determine the number of unemployed in Serbia precisely.
The official unemployment rate is currently only 7.3%, but if we go on using the aforementioned methodology it could easily drop down to 1%, warns Reljanovic, pointing out the possibility of the statistics being misused. “The number of unemployed is calculated taking into consideration the number of those registered by the National Employment Agency. They are round 500,000, but that fact is not realistic as many of those looking for job have not been registered there. There are also persons, who although being registered, were late in renewing their registration or missed the interview with the social adviser, and as such were eliminated from the list of the unemployed. Many of those who lose their jobs - aware of the fact that they will not get any benefit there - do not even go to the Agency”, concludes the expert.
It ought to be said that the demographic factor and the migrations are considerably contributing to the fall of the number of unemployed, too. The opening of the EU borders in the future might additionally increase the flood of educated people heading west, who were 60,000 last year.

Corona Crisis: One in Five Young Worker
Got Their Wage Reduced

9. October 2020  •636•    Further

The majority of them (one third) work in the private sector, which was badly affected by the pandemic. On the other hand, only 11% of them were granted an increase, reads the resume of an inquiry conducted by the CATUS in six ex-YU countries - a fact highly predictable in a region with poor social dialogue and everlasting employers’ hegemony.
The youngsters mostly complained of the lack of necessary equipment, undefined working time, less opportunity for normal private and family life, difficulties in communication with colleagues and clients, as well as increase of both unrefunded expense and anxiety related to work.
Unlike Slovenia and Croatia, who registered a considerable number of dismissals, the number of employees in Serbia during the crisis remained more or less the same. However, the average working hours decreased by five hours i.e. from the usual 37.6 it went down to 32.7, while the percentage of those who worked less than 40 hours per week rose from 19.3 to 45.5%!

President Orbovic on Employers’ Greed

9. October 2020  •635•    Further

Wages in Serbia could be higher if the employers were ready to share a part of their profit with the employees, said Orbovic on the occasion of the World Day of Decent Work celebration in Belgrade.
Part of his analysis was dedicated to the rhythm of growth of workers’ and employers’ income showing a highly disturbing trend. Namely, in last five years the wages have increased by 22% and the profits by 285%! Even in 2016, the year with rather meager economic results, the same ratio remained, as the salaries had grown by only 1.09% and profits by 99.52%.
The slow but constant growth of Serbian GDP shows that our workers, who are well trained and do their job well, considerably contribute to their employers’ profits. Therefore, there is no reason why they should not get a part of the money that goes to employers’ pockets. Especially if we have in mind that in times of crises most of them faithfully share the companies’ fate and are ready to work for a minimum wage. However, when the times get better, the companies start working and their owners acquiring high profits, the workers are usually forgotten and their wages remain much the same.
While in the EU the standard of living is rated by the value of the consumer basket, in Serbia, besides the “normal” basket we also have the so called “minimum” one, whose content is hardly enough for one’s survival. Still, our minimum wage does not reach even that poor basket, the former being 20% less than the latter”, said Orbovic.
He also mentioned the fact that in spite of the tripartite Program of Decent Work, adopted last year through the mediation of the ILO, Serbian employees are still far from enjoying its effects. “I hope, however, that in the years to come their salaries will enable them to live decently. Until then, the CATUS will keep on fighting for the realization of that objective and the respect of labour rights”, concluded Orbovic.

“VINCI Airports-Belgrade:
Inhumane Treatment of Workers

6. October 2020  •634•    Further

The absence of social dialogue might lead to a strike at Belgrade airport, said the trade union representatives. A few days ago the company management informed workers that those whose work contracts expire at the end of October will lose their jobs. The decision, reasoned by a “decline in business activity”, was followed by a social program intended for those willing to resign voluntarily. The reaction of trade unions was immediate: in the announcement that followed quickly thereafter they said they could not acquiesce in the fact that their colleagues might become part of the army of unemployed and poor.
Those to be dismissed are the employees working in supply and security services, among them the ones controlling the luggage and taking care of the airplanes. The management arguments were met with the utmost suspicion, as the unions are kept far from reliable documents related to business and are therefore not able to draw conclusions on company finance. Their assertions are categorical: “We never saw the agreement on concessions signed by the VINCI Airports and Serbian government. In spite of the Prime Minister’s multiple promises to make it published, it hasn’t appeared in public, so far. Whenever we try to do something for workers, our partners usually quote the mysterious document”.
The misunderstandings are, however, present for a long time. For example, forty female employees were dismissed immediately after ending the maternity leave, although they were perfectly fit for work. In the future, the situation might get complicated additionally as the staff will have to clean toilettes and the rest of the airport building themselves. “They promised to provide us with buckets and squeegees at their own expense”, complain the indignant workers.
The unions are generally concerned for workers’ fate in post-corona times. After analyzing the current trends, several independent Serbian institutes already reported that within a few months a big number of redundancies are to be expected – round 200,000. These data clash with those communicated by the government, according to which the consequences of the pandemic should not affect us too much. The truth must lie somewhere in between, still it’s a fact that the cessation of the government aid to companies and workers will leave many of them in a serious trouble. It’s not hard to guess that victims will mostly be among those who worked with short-term contracts and in informal economy, people who will literally have to strive to make ends meet.

“Zastava Arms”: Dismissal of Managers
Due to Trade Union Affiliation

30. September 2020  •633•    Further

In an announcement of the Autonomous Trade Union in “Zastava Arms” (affiliated to the CATUS) it is said that workers condemned the decisions related to the dismissal of managers in the production (a director and two other managers) and were ready to prevent further harassment of employees and trade union members. Later on, the decision on dismissal was revoked, but the management is still determined to dismiss the leading production manager – who, as a member of the Trade Union Assembly is protected by the collective agreement - and banish him to another factory unit, where he would be unable to do his trade union work. It’s a man who for 30 years has been performing difficult and responsible work on the shop floor where the job is done in extremely complicated and risky conditions.
Recently, two other executive directors in production have been dismissed – engineers with a long term experience, but also the lady who is the manager for galvanization and her colleague responsible for transport. Previously, marketing and sales directors were the targets too, as well as a big number of low ranked managers.
In the Autonomous Trade Union they think that the attacks on their affiliates made by the President of the Supervisory Board, who ‘completely privatized his public function’, started intensifying after the downfall of his candidate, (who is affiliated to the Industry Trade Unions) at the elections for the Representative of social capital. In the Autonomous Trade Union they estimate that constant change of leadership has been destroying factory system for years, the consequences being the record-breaking losses, especially in 2017, when Ivica Marjanović was nominated President of the Supervisory Board. They also say that the experienced engineers will be the next ones to take the hit, as they will be transferred to other units, while a great number of young engineers have already left the factory.
"Dismissals of key managers happens at the time when the production of rifles for the US market needs to be improved significantly", say the unionists and announce that due to the latest worsening of the situation and conflict between the management and factory workers, the session of the Trade Union Assembly of “Zastava Arms” will be held today.

ILO/EBRD assessment: Coronavirus crisis cost
Serbia equivalent to 510.000 full-time jobs

18. September 2020  •632•    Further

In Serbia, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 510,000 full-time jobs. However, by offering the most generous and comprehensive economic package among the Western Balkan economies, the Serbian government contained “the expansion of poverty”, according to the new rapid assessment report, joint work of the ILO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Following the introduction of strict public health measures and the subsequent slump in economic activity, working hours in Serbia declined by an estimated 14.8 per cent during Q2/2020. Shorter working hours and furlough schemes contributed significantly to this decrease. If the health crisis persists and employment retention programmes discontinue, however, people may be pushed into unemployment, the study warns.
The report identifies sectors in which over 700,000 workers are at immediate risk as the health crisis persists: wholesale trade, retail trade, accommodation, transport, services, forestry and logging, and crop and animal production. Of this workforce, almost 314,000 work on their own account and over 267,000 are informal workers. Microenterprises, employing more than 735,000 workers, were hit hardest by the crisis with more than one in four completely ceased operating. The government provided a generous financial assistance measure in the form of employment retention subsidies, which for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises amounted to about 65 per cent of total labour costs.
While the report welcomes the “near universal support to both firms and citizens”, it also offers five preliminary policy recommendations:

  • A more selective and targeted approach
  • Solutions to support a large number of circular and seasonal workers
  • Mitigating the less visible social costs of the pandemic
  • Optimising the new youth employment programme
  • Using social dialogue more consistently and more effectively.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ILO Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the EBRD established a joint task force to assess the impact of the crisis on the region’s economies by examining the likely short- and medium-term effects on employment and the labour market.

Workers of FIAT in Workshop Again

5. September 2020  •631•    Further

Workers don’t know how long they will be working, but at the moment there is some work to be done. They are coming back after a paid leave and collective annual leave. However, it is not known how many days they’ll spend in the production hall. What we do know is that the factory management is authorised by the government to send workers to a paid leave till the end of the current month. It will depend on the number of orders and the automobile industry market. Unfortunately, main markets where ‘FIAT 500L’ has been sold, such as in Italy, Spain and France, marked the biggest drop in demand for new cars, which during previous months amounted to even 70%, just to fall down to around 50%.
Preparations for the beginning of the new work cycle were made a week ago and with due respect of all protection measures the production is about to start. This means that upon entering the factory workers will have their temperature measured, they will get two masks, gloves and spray to disinfect their work place. Prescribed distance has to be respected, both in halls and the canteen.
When the COVID-19 epidemic started in March, workers of FIAT worked only for two weeks. They were on a paid leave from March 16 till July 7 because the automobile markets were getting closed around Europe. At first, they used up 45 days of annual leave, allowed in a single calendar year, during which they received 65% of their salary. At the beginning of May, factory management asked the government for additional 80 days of paid leave for workers and received the approval. The expiry date is the last day of September.
Throughout the year FIAT worked with reduced capacity, partly because of the corona virus, which fiercely hit the automobile market, and partly because the market for 500L almost doesn’t exist. It is saturated,so a lot of hope is invested in merging FIAT and Peugeot because it might result in a new model.
Anyway, this year’s production in FIAT will surely be the lowest since 2012, when the production in Kragujevac halls was renewed.
According to some estimates, since the beginning of this year there were 15,000-20,000 pieces of 500L model that have been made in FIAT factory in Kragujevac, which is almost six times less than in 2013, when a record number of 117,000 vehicles were produced on the assembly lines. Due to the fact that for past several years the export has been continuously slowing down and a significant drop in demand for cars during the pandemic occurred, FIAT isn’t among the five biggest exporters any more. Last year it was ranked second, just tofall down to the sixth place. In order to go back to the leading position it held for a long time, the recovery of global automobile industry is necessary, as well as the launch of the production of a new model. Whether and with what amount would the government help the factory in Kragujevac in 2020 is yet to be seen. In the past, they helped FIAT - only last year the company received grants and subsidies amounting to 2.5 billion dinars. But it was at the time when situation was much better, which makes the future of the automobile giant in Serbia utterly uncertain.

Drakulic: Mass Dismissals Could Lead to Social Unrest

5. September 2020  •630•    Further

President of the Employers’ Club “Privrednik”, Zoran Drakulic, made some interesting comments on the minimum wage negotiation process and warned about dangers we might face during the painful recovery period. He said he was aware that we are in the middle of an extremely serious crisis, exacerbating employers’ feeling of anxiety and fears of what future might bring. That is why we hear some of them claiming the introduction of a moratorium on minimum wage increase for the time being. The crisis is unprecedented and one has to be very cautious on the salary issue. Still, it is obvious that the current amount is scandalously small and far from enabling people to pay for the consumer basket. “At the moment”, said Drakulic “the most logical solution would be a moderate increase of round 20 euros per month, i.e. up to 35,000 dinars (297 euros).
President of “Privrednik” is convinced that only the end of political games with employers and their inclusion in the economic policy creation team would lead to a considerable increase of the national GDP. Asked about the announced building of a new - glamourous and costly – stadium, he said he had nothing against the idea, but suggested its realization in the future “when Serbia would become a rich country”.
Especially interesting is Drakulic’s opinion about the possible instability caused by the pandemic and lockdowns. He hopes not to see the pessimistic unions’ predictions on mass dismissals realized (they spoke about 200 to 300 hundred thousand unemployed by the end of the year), but warns about “possible social disturbances in case this happens”.

State-Sponsored Minimum Wage
Payments Are Coming to an End

3. September 2020  •629•    Further

Serbian Minister of Finance, Mali, announced that the last payment, amounting to 18,000 dinars (150 euros) will be made on September 8. Meant at mitigating the hard consequences of the corona-virus pandemic, it will be paid to more than one million workers, employed in 235,000 enterprises. It’s the second payment within the last of the two “assistance packages”, each payment equaling 60% of the statutory minimum salary. There were five of them since the corona crisis started, and they were all paid from the budget, the total value of the expenditure exceeding 130 billion dinars (1.1 billion euros).
It cannot be denied that the government lavishly assisted the business and the employees, as its program worth 5.8 billion euros is - judged by Serbian criteria - a gigantic expenditure. Its implementation prevented the realization of the catastrophic scenarios, which could have ended up with closure of many companies and mass dismissals – something which in certain countries has already been happening. Here, a great part of the business kept on working and each worker in SMEs got at least five times a sum equaling 60% of the minimum wage. The financial assistance was decisive in safeguarding the macroeconomic stability and maintaining the rate of employment almost unchanged. All this, however, might easily change in autumn, when the economy, after months of government support, will be left on its own- and that’s what the unions are mostly afraid of.
The total public assistance has amounted to 12.5% of our GDP and, as it seems, it helped preventing a precipitous fall of production and a sudden growth of unemployment. In the first six months of the crisis, the GDP surprisingly decreased by only 0.9%, which is a result that can be envied even by some more developed economies. However, the highly unforeseeable effects of the pandemic and the general negative inputs of the world market, make unions feel much more skeptical about the promised “rosy future”, especially taking into account the general neoliberal mentality of the leading government officials.

No Agreement on Minimum Wage
after First Round of Talks

29. August 2020  •628•    Further

As negotiations among the representatives of trade unions, employers’ association and government ended up without success, a new round starting on September 1 has been announced. According to domestic regulation, the talks should be over by September 15 and their failure would trigger government action and a special law on the subject. Currently, round 350,000 people in Serbia live on the minimum wage. The last change occurred earlier this year, when it was increased from 27,000 dinars (229 euros) to 30,022 dinars (254 euros).
Both representative unions participating in the Social and Economic Council, CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost, demanded the minimum wage be increased from current 30,022 dinars (254 euros) to 37,500 dinars (318 euros) and equalled to the minimum consumer basket. Although aware of the consequences of the corona pandemic, the unions still reminded the government of the promise made in 2018 to equalize gradually the minimum wage and the price of the minimum consumer basket until the end of 2021.
The employers were more skeptical and insisted the increase should depend on the foreseen growth of the national GDP and inflation. They said they understood the workers’ claims, but thought they were not realistic. “The new amount should depend on the economic activity, and it’s senseless to base it only on the highly uncertain prognoses”, concluded the ex-President of the Association, Atanackovic. Generally speaking, the employers could accept an increase, but only on (a usual) condition the government reduce the taxes they have to pay. They also proposed a temporary “freezing” of the minimum wage until the creation of the new government or the January 1, 2021.
The representatives of the government presented various statistical data showing the major macroeconomic trends, but on the possibility of the minimum wage increase they kept silent.

New Trends in Investment and
Employment in Serbia

25. August 2020  •627•    Further

In the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia they are of the opinion that the country will benefit from West European investors’ plans to safeguard their supply chains by transferring production from non-European countries to Europe. Because of their comparative advantages, the West Balkan markets might be of special interest for them.
Generally speaking, the investments in Serbia have not fallen down to a level which might cause anxiety. In a Chamber’s recent research, 72% of the companies confirmed they managed to keep their investment at the same level as before or had invested even more than in the past, 56% were still planning to invest in the third quarter and 65% intended to invest more than in the second quarter. Especially optimistic seems the fact that 94% of them do not expect a serious growth of unemployment in the recent future.
The need for work force varies according to sectors. Manufacturing industries still look for mechanical and civil engineers, lock-smiths, welders and construction workers. Curiously, the number of demands and offers has remained almost the same during the crisis. What is particularly interesting is a passionate search for hair-dressers, specialists for dog-trimming, beauticians, plumbers, electricians and house painters.
Additionally alarming is the return from abroad of 350,000 redundant Serbian workers who lost their jobs there, temporarily or permanently. Many are eagerly awaiting positive news from their earlier employers and are ready to go back to work, but some are more realistic and see their future in Serbia. They have intention to stay and look for job here, which might bring additional headache to our economic planners.

Debate on the Efficiency of the 100 Euro Gift

17. August 2020  •626•    Further

Serbian pensioners still stick to the promise of President Vucic given during the electoral campaign and hope that after a long period of fiscal consolidation (2014-2019), when pensions were first reduced and then “frozen”, they won’t be subject to some new government restrictive measures again. Vucic namely promised that “Serbia will pass through corona crisis more smoothly than other countries, without reduction of pensions and salaries in public sector”. A guarantee for that, he said, was a rather tolerable public debt, which stopped growing and makes up round 57% of country’s GDP at the moment.
The Fiscal Council is, however, much more skeptical. In their newest report it’s claimed that in 2021 wages could be frozen and pensions allowed only a slight growth. They insist the government should respect its own decision and instead of regulating pensions according to some arbitrary criterion, strictly respect the adopted “Swiss formula” (50% of pensions increase depending on inflation and 50% on productivity growth). The system, established in 2019, is now under a threat because of the pandemic and the economic crisis it triggered. In such difficult times it’s not the best one, but it could survive by modifying the parameters of the “Swiss formula” (75% of pensions increase depending on inflation and 25% only on productivity growth). That’s exactly what the Council suggested in 2019.
The pensioners’ associations and trade unions are unwilling to predict the future developments. Still, they are convinced that if our economy gets out of the present crisis relatively untouched, the existing level of pensions could be preserved – even with the application of the modified Swiss formula. There is, however, a problem related to 30.000 to 50.000 new unemployed - a fact that could seriously affect the financial input to the budget (still considerably contributing to Serbian pension system). It makes some extreme pessimists among the pensioners suspicious about government’s intentions and gets them to predict new measures that might lead to new reductions and freezing of the already poor pensions.

Debate on the Efficiency of the 100 Euro Gift

10. August 2020  •625•    Further

Debate on the efficiency of the “gift” (100 euros) the government gave to all full-of-age citizens before the elections, is still going on. Having in mind that the national GDP might contract by 3% this year and army of unemployed increased by new 30,000 to 50,000 members, its rationality is really controversial. “For the realization of a measure which did not seriously contribute to the solution of any social problem, the government spent a sum equaling the per year investment in the health system, says a member of the Fiscal Council, Petrovic. The situation has been additionally aggravated by a rather big public debt, amounting to 57% of the GDP, which makes further borrowing - necessary for the second phase of economic assistance to small and medium enterprises - more difficult”.
Petrovic is convinced that in autumn Serbia will be facing a recession. Economic activity will slow down, many will lose their jobs and wages in some sectors will go down. However, segments of economy will be affected differently: while many manufacturing sectors, tourism, catering and services in general will suffer considerable losses, the agriculture, food-processing and communications will keep their pace or have a negligible decrease. In contrast to the 2009 crisis, the exchange rate of the national currency and inflation rate is supposed to remain stable.
For assisting the SMEs and citizens 2.5 billion euros have been spent so far. As 30% of companies did not show interest in the assistance, the government got abundant additional means for economic and social purposes. Still, no changes were introduced into the first-phase assistance program, which treated all companies equally and was criticized unselective. This will negatively affect its efficiency and limit the possibility of significant investments in health sector which is confronted with the second wave of the pandemic. The cost of the above-mentioned “gift” is now becoming obvious: 600 million euros paid to the population could have been used to finance a year of social assistance for 500,000 people in need or cover cost of 200,000 unemployment benefits! Or – coming back to the beginning – increase the investment in health system five times!

Government Keeps on Helping Private Companiese

3. August 2020  •624•    Further

During first phase of the pandemic, the government assistance to companies – meant to help them heal worst consequences of the economic crisis - was given indiscriminately. This time, it will be given only to small and medium enterprises. The former are those worth not more than 4 million euros, earning up to 8 million euros a year and having less than 50 workers. The latter are the ones whose value is not exceeding 20 million euros, with the profit up to 40 million euros and staff limited to 250 workers. Companies failing to fulfill these three criteria will not be entitled to the assistance. It was announced that the aid’s first part will be paid till August 10 and the second in September.
Although generally supporting the government action, the Employers’ Association of Serbia has had some additional claims. Among them is the one related to the value added tax in tourism and catering (to be brought down to 10%), municipal taxes (to be diminished by 30%) and regular fulfillment of all public sector financial obligations towards private companies, stemming from commercial contracts. However, the most controversial is the one related to sick leaves, which should not be paid by the employers, but by the National Health Insurance Fund. Obviously, the old idea of “privatising profits and socializing loses” in minds of Serbian entrepreneurs is still alive.
The experts criticize these claims as “unselective” and “overestimating the government’s capacities”. They think that criteria entitling companies to government assistance should be clearer and more precise, as there are companies that passed through the pandemic crisis almost untouched. They also insist that more attention should be paid to workers who will lose their jobs, than to employers’ over-dramatic appeals. The unions are also skeptical - backing the government assistance to companies, the CATUS President Orbovic characterized the employers’ idea of public-funded wages as “senseless”.

Full Salary for COVID-19 Sick Leave,
Regulate Work from Home

28. July 2020  •623•    Further

As COVID-19 epidemic opened up the issue of sick leave/furlough bonus, as well as the need to regulate more frequent work from home, representative of trade union confederations agree that rules of the game need to be determined.
Vice-President of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, Duško Vuković, says that the amount of bonus is the biggest problem in case somebody gets infected. In the whole of public sector, he says, this bonus amounts to 100% of salary, except for the sector of culture.
‘These days we’re talking to the Ministries of Finance and Culture so that workers could get their full salary if they get infected by the virus and need to take a furlough or sick leave’, he says.
CATUS also thinks that self-isolation of 14-21 days should be considered by the employer as a type of work injury.
‘We can’t say where people get infected, maybe it could happen at work, too. For the benefit of company’s financial results, as well as employees, it is more effective for the employer to pay out the full salary to the isolated employee than to have them come to work where they could infect others because he could eventually get into a situation where there would be no one to do the job’, he explains.
Vuković says CATUS thinks that work from home should not be regulated by amendments to the law, but collective agreements because there are specifities and this should be the result of the agreement between trade unions and employers. ‘It would be good if the Employers’ Association of Serbia and representative trade unions made collective agreements covering all sectors and regulating this issue’, says Vuković. He also adds that trade union requests salaries not to be reduced while people are working from home, while this doesn’t stand for transport allowance and possibly hot meal bonus.
He confirms that the catering and hotel business sector has recently initiated a process of drafting a collective agreement between trade unions and employers.

FIAT: Paid Leave All Summer Long

22. July 2020  •622•    Further

Since July 21, 2020 workers of FIAT Chrysler Serbia have been on paid leave which will be linked to their collective annual leave, meaning they won’t come back to the factory till the beginning of September.
As paid leave had been approved by the Government, it is to be seen whether the workers will keep on resting even after September because it all depends on the the automobile industry market where the situation doesn’t look bright.
Vice-President of the autonomous trade union organisation, Nebojša Mandarić, explained that workers would be on their paid leave till July 31, 2020 and thoroughout the period they would receive 65% of their salary. Then, traditional Italian holiday ‘ferragosto’ follows from August 3 to August 21, which is used by all Italian workers in the first three weeks of August. Finally, in the last week of August workers won’t be going to work, but they will still be receiving 65% of their salary.
The reason to stop the production is the adjustment to market needs because the factory functions by order. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, workers were on a paid leave from March 16 till July 7 because the automobile market all around Europe came to a halt.
CATUS Secretary, Zoran Mihajlović, who was once a trade union leader in the Kragujevac factory, says that this year FIAT was working with less capacity, partly because of the virus which fiercly hit the automobile market and partly because FIAT hasn't had a market for 500L model for a long time.
Statistics in Serbia show that in May the production of motor vehicles experienced the biggest semi-annual drop than all others in the processing industry, precisely by 70%. This is even an improvement compared to a semi-annual drop of 85% in April.
This year's production in FIAT will certainly be the smallest since 2012 when the production in Kragujevac workshops has been renewed. According to some estimates, in FIAT since the beginning of this year 15,000-20,000 pieces of 500L model have been made, which is almost six times less than in 2013, when a record number of 117,000 cars were produced on the assembly lines.

The 16th CATUS Congress Was Held

1. July 2020  •621•    Further

On June 30th, 2020 in the Trade Union House the 16th Congress of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia was held. Congress was attended by 296 delegates and around 150 guests. All the preparations were done with due respect of protective measures and physical distance.
Congress of the oldest and largest trade union confederation, which marks its 117th anniversary, conveyed a joint message Experience with us, Future ahead of us!
In his introductory speech CATUS President, Ljubisav Orbović, thanked the attendees for coming to Congress in these uncertain times and expressed satisfaction for having managed to organise Congress with only a month of delay due to the epidemic and emergency state. He also pointed out that in those circumstances the most difficult struggle was to maintain standard employment, fight against the misuse of technological development and digitalization, increasing social inequalities and discrimination.
‘Our task is to adjust to changes and give our contribution to creating more successful and more developed Serbia that cannot exist as such without satisfied workers and citizens’, said Orbovic.
‘Having in mind that even in these altered working conditions work will stay and so will exploitation, we need to step up our fight to protect workers’ rights and dignity’, he added.
According to him, ‘by promoting our endeavours and success, we shall prove that in those companies, factories and institutions where employees are unionised, rights are a lot less violated, working conditions are better and OHS is at a higher level’.
At the 16th Congress Ljubisav Orbović was re-elected CATUS President. The following documents were adopted: CATUS Activity Program, 7 Resolutions and 2 Declarations. Members of the Council, Statutary and Auditing Committees were elected for the upcoming mandate.
Congress was also addressed by Ivica Dačić, the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia; Zoran Đorđević, Labour Minister; Miloš Nenezić, President of Serbian Employers’ Association and Zoran Stojiljković, President of TUC NEZAVISNOST.
Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary and Reiner Hoffman, DGB President took part in the work of the Congress through video messages. Regarding regional guests, Ranka Mišić, President of the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Srpska addressed the delegates in person.

Government Introduce
New Employment-Increasing Measures

25. June 2020  •620•    Further

The second wave of corona virus epidemic with a repetition of all things we’ve already seen (closure of factories and shops, quarantines and a broad lockdown) would have much more serious repercussions on Serbian economy than the first one. Asked to give their judgment on that issue the experts are almost unanimous: a come-back of the corona virus would bring us mass dismissals and a considerable reduction of wages. The mostly affected would be the small and medium enterprises which already ran out of reserves, used up all possible government assistance and risk to see their supply chains fatally disrupted – all this meaning a further slow-down of production, a reduction of profits and less need for workforce.
Although international financial institutions predict that Serbia could suffer from the current crisis less than the other countries, another lock-down would be a huge risk. Professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Economics, Ljubodrag Savic, emphasizes that “many companies are at the brink of bankruptcy and the government has no more means for assisting them”. “Although some segments of the economy have partly won back their partners and clients, their recovery is rather problematic as they depend much on supply chains and other sectors”.
“In the case of the second wave of the epidemic, many companies would not ask for government assistance, even if the credits were favourable - first, because they would be obliged to repay them and second, because their supply chains are broken and their products cannot be sold. Much, of course, would depend on the length of the second wave, however, many companies and even states could hardly recover from it even if it were not too long”, concludes Savic.
His colleague, Miroslav Zdravkovic, says that everything depends on the range of the government measures. He doubts that we could be completely isolated again and pushed into another lockdown, as a month after the epidemic broke out the world generally understood that the price of such lockouts was exaggerated and the disease not as dangerous as it seemed at the beginning. “At present, the industrial production of Serbia has sunk to the level of 2000, which means that we live in a situation we had 20 years ago”, adds Zdravkovic and concludes that our only hope are the still remaining fragments of the European welfare state and the resilience of German economy “capable of neutralising negative consequences of America’s horrific decline”.

Serbia Wouldn’t Survive Another Lockdown

22. June 2020  •619•    Further

The second wave of corona virus epidemic with a repetition of all things we’ve already seen (closure of factories and shops, quarantines and a broad lockdown) would have much more serious repercussions on Serbian economy than the first one. Asked to give their judgment on that issue the experts are almost unanimous: a come-back of the corona virus would bring us mass dismissals and a considerable reduction of wages. The mostly affected would be the small and medium enterprises which already ran out of reserves, used up all possible government assistance and risk to see their supply chains fatally disrupted – all this meaning a further slow-down of production, a reduction of profits and less need for workforce.
Although international financial institutions predict that Serbia could suffer from the current crisis less than the other countries, another lock-down would be a huge risk. Professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Economics, Ljubodrag Savic, emphasizes that “many companies are at the brink of bankruptcy and the government has no more means for assisting them”. “Although some segments of the economy have partly won back their partners and clients, their recovery is rather problematic as they depend much on supply chains and other sectors”.
“In the case of the second wave of the epidemic, many companies would not ask for government assistance, even if the credits were favourable - first, because they would be obliged to repay them and second, because their supply chains are broken and their products cannot be sold. Much, of course, would depend on the length of the second wave, however, many companies and even states could hardly recover from it even if it were not too long”, concludes Savic.
His colleague, Miroslav Zdravkovic, says that everything depends on the range of the government measures. He doubts that we could be completely isolated again and pushed into another lockdown, as a month after the epidemic broke out the world generally understood that the price of such lockouts was exaggerated and the disease not as dangerous as it seemed at the beginning. “At present, the industrial production of Serbia has sunk to the level of 2000, which means that we live in a situation we had 20 years ago”, adds Zdravkovic and concludes that our only hope are the still remaining fragments of the European welfare state and the resilience of German economy “capable of neutralising negative consequences of America’s horrific decline”.

Is the “Short-Time Working” Coming to Serbia as Well?

8. June 2020  •618•    Further

The corona crisis has negatively affected all the world's economies and they are now looking for the ways that might help them return to the old levels of production, as quickly and as safely as possible. In the neighboring Croatia, they are seriously considering the German model of "Kurzarbeit", i.e. a reduced working week, which helped many work places there to survive.
In order to recover from the corona crisis, the economies are sticking to models that proved to be efficient in previous financial crises. One of them is the “short-time working”, helping workers keep their jobs and companies not lose quality staff and trained workforce who would be hard to find in the case of recovery. The idea is that companies keep on working and covering their workers’ wages four days a week, while the fifth day (which is a day-off) is covered by the government. During the previous crises about 1.5 million German workers (in 2008) and seven million (during the ongoing crisis) benefitted from it. However, according to the experts, a scheme like this wouldn’t be feasible in Serbia - no matter how good it may sound. "Some solutions that are possible in rich and developed European countries are not possible here because we still don’t have a level of economy enabling our government to provide so massive subsidies," the President of the Employers’ Association of Serbia, Atanackovic, told us. He claims that similar recovery models are easy to apply in rich countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, but in Serbia which is much poorer, it is simply impossible. The European Union will use huge funds, going up to 1.5 billion euros, to help the economy of the Eurozone. A part of that money will be given to the neighboring Croatia as well and it will certainly help its economy. It is true that Balkan countries which do not make part of the Union yet will also receive some aid, but it will be ten times less than the one granted to Croatia as a member of the EU”.
On the other hand, the economist Aleksandar Stevanovic points out that "the government money does not fall from the trees and therefore one must bear in mind that not all the companies need an equal support. “The question” he says “is how to define the criteria entitling you to the assistance. Some need more help, some less and those who benefitted from the crisis don’t need it at all. It is indisputable that the government should continue to support business, but they should do it in accordance with their possibilities. The real question now is how to determine who exactly needs the help and who doesn’t". explains Stevanović.

Minimum Wage for
One Million Serbian Workers

3. June 2020  •617•    Further

More than 400,000 Serbian workers left their jobs in EU countries and came back to Serbia following the outbreak of the corona virus epidemic.
Tomorrow the government will start to pay out minimum wages (30.000 dinars i.e. 254 euros) to one million employees working in Serbian SMEs. The money (32 billion dinars i.e. 271.186 million euros, in total) will be deposited to the accounts of 232.000 companies. The initial payment was made at the beginning of May and the third will follow the first week of July. All payments will cost the government more than 800 million euros, the money being a part of a huge 5.1 billion euro plan aimed at rescuing Serbian economy. While workers in SMEs are entitled to full minimum wages, those working in big companies will get only a half of it – 15.000 dinars (177 euros) each.
The entitled to the state-funded minimum wage are only workers in formal sector with full or fixed time employment contracts. Unfortunately, the government did not show much compassion for the difficulties of temporary and seasonal workers who will be forced to find out by themselves how to survive. The retirees who keep on working will be treated the same way, as well as pregnant and post-partal female employees, whose salaries will be covered fully from the budget.
The Minister of Finance, Mali, has recently announced that the state was preparing twenty new additional economic measures, which, as he said, will be focused on new employment. According to him, a part of them will refer to the reduction of taxes and contributions for new employees, normally paid by the employers and another part to the direct subsidies for each newly employed worker.
The owners and directors of the companies are generally satisfied with the economic measures implemented by the Government of Serbia and have followed their recommendation not to lay off workers. The economy is slowly starting to work and open up, and Serbia will probably soon feel a growing need for an improved dual education system, able to provide a skilled workforce that will be ready to face the challenges of the hard times-to-come.

Repatriates from EU
Put Pressure on Wages and Employment

1. June 2020  •616•    Further

More than 400,000 Serbian workers left their jobs in EU countries and came back to Serbia following the outbreak of the corona virus epidemic.
Last year, according to the World Bank estimates, our employees working abroad remitted 4,16 billion dollars to Serbia, which was enough to cover two thirds of its foreign trade deficit and more than enough to considerably raise the living standard of the recipients. The Bank now estimates that this year the sum will be reduced by 28% i.e. by 1,2 billion dollars. In first two months of this year it already decreased from 495 to 451 million dollars (almost by 10%).
In a highly controversial statement, President of Serbia, Vucic, invited the repatriated workers to “stay and start working in Serbia, as they could make their life much better here than anywhere else”. He concluded by saying that in Serbia they would be able to earn a sum equal to their former remittances.
The experts are, however, much less convinced about the feasibility of this project and qualify it as wishful thinking. Professor of Economics at Belgrade University, Petar Djukic, thinks that our economy will be seriously affected by the current crisis and that majority of Serbian workers who worked abroad will not be able to keep their jobs there. Many of them left the homeland because they lived in extremely difficult conditions, so the loss of a secure income which let them live decent lives will certainly affect their well-being. As a consequence of the massive workers comeback, Djukic expects a drop of wages and employment. The private business will suffer most, but public sector should not feel protected either – it is difficult to keep the same number of employees and same salaries in a situation where the economic activity could easily decrease by 5%.
Other experts point to the necessity of a new strategy of economic development, similar to Roosvelt’s “New Deal”, as they simply don’t see other way of facing the challenge of the enormous influx of unemployed coming from EU countries. Still, there is the problem of necessary means because the country first must pay the debt it made fighting the pandemic. After all, the experts of the European Commission fear that the unemployment which recently fell down to 10.3% might grow to 12.7%. The IMF is even more pessimistic: skeptical about our workers’ fast return to Western Europe, they prefer to speak about 13.4% unemployment increase.

More than 400,000
Serbian Workers Returned to Serbia

28. May 2020  •615•    Further

The strongest economies in the euro-zone (and at the same time the most important trade partners of Serbia) have been severely hit by the corona virus pandemic. In Germany and Austria, where around 750,000 Serbian citizens live and work, the economy has been at a stand-still for almost two months and the unemployment increased by more than 10%. In Germany the government expects a big surge of bankruptcies and additional three million unemployed, while in the US, with its numerous Serbian community, their number may soon go over 42 million.
This situation made more than 400,000 Serbian citizens, mostly unqualified workers or those whose status has not been regulated, go back home. According to the economists, the return of such a large number of workers will surely lead to an increase of our unemployment rate. As many of the returnees say, a big number of workers in Western Europe were laid off because of corona crisis and no one knows how long this situation will last. According to the data of the National Employment Agency there were 513,058 unemployed in Serbia at the end of March.
"There is an impression that the employers in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and other countries, where many Serbs live and work, fire the foreigners first, but to a certain extent this is logical. Because of the mass dismissals many of the “guest” workers will have to go back home and consequently cause an additional unemployment, much higher than the one we had before the epidemic. At the same time, an increased offer of labour will exert pressure on the rest of workers and make them feel more anxious and insecure ", explains the economist Ljubomir Madžar and adds that fierce competition on labour market will put employers in a more advantageous position and facilitate further restrictions of workers’ rights.He thinks, however, that as time goes by, people will start thinking about returning to Western Europe. As soon as the corona virus crisis is over, their employers will also be readier to install them at their previous workplaces. "Those workers have already acquired a good reputation there, rooted themselves in local societies, adjusted to the new culture and social environment, so I’m sure that for employers a come-back will be an attractive option. Moreover, it is well known that the demographic situation in the West does not inspire much optimism. The population is rapidly getting old, number of pensioners rising and number of active citizens decreasing, which means that new workers will do those countries quite good. So, I expect them to go back to places they temporarily had to leave", concludes Madžar.
Ljubodrag Savić, Professor at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade, is of the same opinion, but adds that certain number of returnees will probably stay and look for a job in Serbia. However, working mostly in the informal sector and having no motivation to apply for a place on the Employment Agency’s list, they shouldn’t increase the unemployment rate significantly. "Those who have returned to Serbia are mostly workers who do manual work which is often rejected by those who stayed. People most often entered EU with tourist visas. One part of their ex-jobs will survive, but not many of them and that is why they will choose to stay here. Those who opt for a return, will have to consider some limiting factors, not depending on us but being part of the EU and member-states’ regulation", explains Professor Savić and adds he personally expects to see the situation in Western Europe improved by the end of the year - unless the pandemic reappears. Reminding that Germany lacks labour force, he warns us that their GDP has fallen by a two-digit number, and concludes that with such future prospects it is not realistic to expect the number of employees to stay the same.

200.000 or 7.000 Lost Jobs in Serbia?

15. May 2020  •614•    Further

An analysis made by SeConS Group and Friedrich Ebert Foundation has shown that 200.000 Serbian workers (many of them working in informal sector and as self-employed) lost their jobs during the pandemic and the state of emergency. The research was made on a sample of 1.600 people who still worked in February this year.
Half of them were dismissed because their company stopped working and one quarter because they were not offered a new contract after the expiry of the previous one. The rest was forced to quit because in a situation where no public traffic worked, where kindergartens and schools were closed and the institutions for home care of the elders stopped offering services – they simply could not reconcile their work and private life.
The mostly affected were the employees in private companies, in sectors such as catering, commerce and construction industry. Among them, the consequences of the crisis were mostly felt by the self-employed, by workers in informal sector and by those with fixed-term contracts. The cities did better than the villages and the elders better than the youth. It’s interesting that in urban areas there were more men under risk than women, while in the rural ones it was the opposite.
Round 4% of employees were forced to go on holidays and 4% did the same in agreement with the employers. One fourth worked part-time and 5.6% saw their wages reduced.
Still, the heaviest burden was borne by the women who made 86% of those in the front line of the pandemic. At the same time, in 70% of the households it was also them to do the usual housework and take care of youngsters and elders.
The most of Serbs adapted themselves well to work from home (25% of them). A majority (90%) said their private equipment was sufficient and satisfactory, while 15% stated they were less efficient than usually.
The results of the research differ a lot from the official data published by the government and speaking about only 7.317 jobless seeking for help at the counters of the National Employment Agency.

FIAT Chrysler Serbia Asks for Additional
80 Days Paid Leave for Workers

15. May 2020  •613•    Further

As journalists were told by the Autonomous Trade Union in the company (affiliated to the CATUS), the fact that company asked for an additional leave for workers in Kragujevac factory, could mean they hoped the leave, which was supposed to last till May 18, might be prolonged almost till autumn.
Trade Union President, Zoran Marković, said that one of those days he expected an official company announcement, saying whether workers would come back to work the following week or their leave would be prolonged. Having in mind current developments of the pandemic and the unstable epidemiologic situation around Europe, he said that a prolongation of the paid leave was a more probable alternative. He explained the Kragujevac car producer asked the Ministry of Labour for the approval of additional 80 days paid leave, because the legally granted 45 days leave had already been used up.
"We think that through these additional days the company wants to cover all possible work stoppages which might occur in the future, primarily due to the unstable situation with corona virus, but to the other reasons, too. We hope this new paid leave won’t be used in continuity, but will be intermittent and allow us to have working days in factory, as well ", said Marković.
Explaining that the additional 80 days paid leave, together with 15 days of the collective summer holiday, could cover a period lasting till September 30, he confirmed that the opinion of the Autonomous Trade Union, related to the submission of the request, was asked for.
Marković said that the union – having in mind the current situation with corona virus epidemic and the fact that the workers will receive a compensation for non-working days – responded positively to the management’s suggestion.

Every Fifth Citizen in Difficult Financial Situation

14. May 2020  •612•    Further

While 40% of Serbian citizens said they didn’t need any help in the critical situation caused by the pandemic of corona virus, more than a half, precisely 55% expressed their need to get financial aid, shows the research conducted by the MASMI – the international agency for market and public opinion research.
A half of population able to work and older than 16 (with students and pensioners who are not working left out of the count), were in a way influenced by the spread of corona virus. About 29% were working from home, 12% were on a paid leave, 6% on an unpaid leave, while 4% were laid off. Only 29% of workers kept on working under same or similar conditions.
Even though 52% of citizens found themselves in a complicated, but bearable situation provoked by the epidemic, every fourth citizen estimated that the situation did not get too complicated and the life would soon return to normal. However, 17% of the polled said they needed a delay of loan payment.
To what extent Serbian citizens are financially vulnerable in this period is made visible by the fact they would not give up a part of their salary so that their company could go on working. Only 10% said they would agree to the reduction of their salary because of this and it is similar with giving up their salary for the sake of securing workplaces of workers with low qualifications.
Pandemic was a trigger of worry, but not of panic for 53% of citizens, while the majority, around 38% feared for their and their family’s health and well-being. However, for 16% of them the usual way of living does not exist anymore, while 13% said they were suffering from anxiety, even 7% had panic attacks and a same percentage had no hope for the future.
While 40% of citizens suppose the world will never be the same again, 30% are convinced that the pandemic is not all negative, but it also contains some positive sides and the humanity will deal with it fast. Optimistic attitude that the world will get out of this stronger than before is shared by only 25% of the polled.

Opposing Estimates on Current Economic Situation

6. May 2020  •611•    Further

Judging by the official data, Serbian economy has survived the first wave of corona pandemic, while the manufacturing industry has even registered some growth. In a statement issued recently, the Chamber of Commerce seemed to be convinced that the economic activities would be brought back to normality by mid-May. Out of 130,000 employees sent to forced leaves at the peak of the crisis, they said, 42,000 have already been back to their work places in more than 40 companies and the number will grow with a progressive reopening of the public transport.
From 50 to 60% of small and medium enterprises, employing round 350,000 people, have not closed their doors during the past turbulent period and the rest are expected to reopen also by mid-May. For the moment there is information about only little more than a thousand work contracts that were cancelled at the initiative of the employers.
There are, however, critics of the official position saying that many small companies will never manage to recover and will leave tens of thousands of workers without a job. Those remaining will face salary reductions, forced holidays and paid/unpaid leaves, while the number of the unemployed will steadily grow (next year it could reach 13%, which is a considerable increase compared to today’s 10%).
According to the data of the research agency Infostud, one third of the total work force has been temporarily sent home to “rest” and 12% lost their jobs definitely (one half for closure of their companies and one third for decline of business activities). A survey done by the agency showed that one third of the workers feared for the future of their jobs.

New Discontent of JURA Workers in Niš

30. April 2020  •610•    Further

The notorious South-Korean company producing spare parts for cars keeps on tirelessly violating Serbian labour and sanitary legislation. Although they are back to work after a short industrial action, workers are still dissatisfied.
In spite of the strict sanitary and hygienic rules issued by the City of Nis Crisis Headquarter, which stipulate a maximum of 50 workers per 5,000 square meters and a minimum distance of 2 meters among them, the employer is stubbornly massing people in a narrow and airless space. The shop-stewards have counted 500 instead of 110 workers permitted in the shift. That was done intentionally on weekend , as on these days the Labour Inspection usually rests.
A special problem has surged with the transport of workers, as the company has done little to safeguard their health in heavy times of COVID-19 epidemic. Distances stipulated by the authorities cannot be respected on buses, where people are transported “as pressed as sardines in a fish can”. It’s understandable when one has in mind that buses are few and workers too many.
The most recent story is the one related to the Labour Inspection. A service that once upon a time was highly respected and feared, was postponing its arrival to the factory and, then, after finally coming, checking workers’ grievances and making a report, left declaring they had found no violation of rules. The report’s arrival to the trade union premises is still pending.
It’s quite logical that in a situation where workers are constantly blackmailed by threats of dismissal, such perfect combination of Neoliberals in power, Far-East capitalist tyrants and sluggish Labour Inspection must end up in a violation of basic rights and monstrous super-exploitation.

FCA Serbia Asks for Additional 40 Days Off

30. April 2020  •609•    Further

After exhausting the quota of 45 days off, guaranteed by the domestic legislation, the management of FCA Serbia asked Serbian government for a new, 40-days break. The reason is obvious (epidemic of COVID-19) and the demand rather convincing, especially because the workers would be remunerated according to the law. Last year, the FCA already stopped production after getting government’s consent for additional 87 days off. Then, the reason was different: decline in sales of the once popular model 500L. Workers were also paid according to the law (65% of the regular salary), which is hardly enough for decent living. Workers in FIAT Plastica, which is one of the FCA subcontractors, got even less - only 60% of their regular wage.
The nature of labour relations in the company can best be understood having in mind the fact that the trade unions were not consulted at all.
The workers are convinced that government will accept the management’s demand smoothly. They think it’s a means of preparing company for possible difficulties in the future caused by further development of the COVID-19 epidemic, the duration of which is hard to predict. Serious problems, the Northern Italy and China - main deliverers of FIAT 500L spear parts - have been facing, are well known. There have been no deliveries for many weeks. The continuation of production depends not only on the corona virus epidemic’s easing off in Serbia, but in other countries, as well (including Spain and France – two main markets for FIAT 500L sales).

Experts Do not Approve of the
Entire Government’s Rescue Plan

28. April 2020  •608•    Further

Although the economists mostly supported government crisis measures, some of them have already been severely criticized. Primarily, the decision to pay out of the budget a sum of 100 euros to all full of age citizens is under attack. So far, no one knows who precisely will be entitled to the donation, i. e. does it cover or not Serbian citizens abroad. The majority in the Fiscal Council is convinced that government did not give enough reasons for such payment. The usual explanations citing its role in speeding up the growth or helping the realization of social justice are not logical. According to them, a measure having no economic or social justification is only to disturb the recently acquired fiscal stability, increase indebtedness and slow down country’s development. Especially embarrassing is the fact that the amount will be paid only after the epidemic is over. Why, then, was it ever included in the recovery package?
The donation will not spur production because the problem we are currently confronted with is not a lack of money in citizens’ pockets, but disruptions in supply chains and lack of workers who are obliged to stay at home and cannot go to work. Nor will it increase demand which has also been limited not for the lack of money, but for citizens’ confinement. After all, a big part of the donation will be used for buying imported goods, which will add to foreign trade deficit and weaken the domestic currency.
Besides, there is no argument to support this measure from the social point of view, either. The Council argues that at the international level it’s hard to find a country which donates all its citizens, without any selection. Usually there are strong criteria in directing money precisely to those who mostly need it - to the unemployed, self-employed, parents who take care of school children and some categories of the retired.
The main reason for Council’s criticism, however, is a tremendous “hole” that will be made in the budget by a 70 billion dinars (593 million euros) spending (equaling 1.3% of the country’s GDP).
The economists have calculated that such an amount would be sufficient to cover one-year unemployment benefits for 200,000 jobless or 500,000 of those who receive some kind of social assistance.

No Dismissals in Assisted Companies!

24. April 2020  •607•    Further

Yesterday, Serbian Minister of Finance, Mali, announced the government’s readiness to activate the Development Fund and start assisting companies-victims of the COVID-19 crisis. Those having interest in that are invited to send their requests for help, while the government experts are preparing a legal framework for crediting (mostly) micro, small and medium entreprises. The total value of the state-backed package is two billion euros and the first amounts will be assigned to companies’ accounts in April. A similar program has been created for peasants, as well.
Each of those working in the above-mentioned companies, as well as peasants, will get an amount equaling three minimum wages (three times 30,000 dinars i.e. thrice 257 euros) that will be paid in May, June and July. Workers in big companies, who were not dismissed but mostly temporarily suspended, will get only the half of that sum. In order to receive the money, companies will have to open separate bank accounts. Those who apply for assistance, while acting contrary to the government’s recommendation and dismissing more than 10% of their work force, will be severely fined (up to 5,000 euros). Those who get a credit will be obliged to respect the same 10% rule.
The loans will be repaid in 36 installments, with a grace period of 12 months. The maximum amounts vary between 10 million dinars (85,000 euros) for craftsmen and micro companies and 40 million dinars (340,000 euros) for medium ones.

Is There Anyone to Finally
Teach JURA a Lesson?

9. April 2020  •606•    Further

One of the latest scandals in Serbia is the day-to-day toppling of workers’ rights in South Korean company JURA, which has its factory in the city of Leskovac. After trying many times to make contacts with the management and alarm the Labour Inspection, CATUS had to turn to the COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters. President Orbovic informed them that severe restrictions imposed on all territory of Serbia and almost entire population obviously had no impact on JURA directors, who insisted that all workers had to keep on working and accept being transferred from/to their homes in overcrowded buses and without any personal protection. At the same time the workers were blackmailed in the worst possible way, as they could choose between working regularly with a 40 euro weekly bonus or being dismissed!
Against the anti-COVID-19 regulation in force, the company’s management did not introduce any protective measures at production lines, nor prevented workers from coming into close contact with each other. There have already been eight corona cases among them, but the fact that in total there are 2,800 employees provokes the fear that soon we could witness a local pandemic. One more aggravating circumstance for the company is the fact that its production (spare parts) can no way be labelled as an “essential”, which shows that their only motivation is the profit. Workers’ refusal to enter the factory was dealt with by a typical “take it or leave it” proposal, which put them before a choice: to stay (on employers’ conditions) or “freely” depart (leaving behind them their jobs and wages). This is only one of the poisonous fruits of the government’s policy which aimed to attract foreign capital by making publicity of Serbia as a country with cheapest labour in the region, abundance of unemployed workers and liberal Labour Law. There were international speculators who quickly understood the message and rushed to invest in capitalists’ Promised Land, JURA group being one of them. The results were low-quality and insecure jobs, poor wages and lack of any serious respect for labour rights. The unions have never been welcome there and any attempt to establish them lead to mobbing and dismissals. Is it possible that community has lost all control over its future and depends on the mercy of people who have no intention to improve public good but only to extract extra-profits? Is the moment approaching when the people will stand up against such authoritarian outlaws (because they are outlaws violating constantly the law) and their Serbian executors and give them a lesson of justice? Probably it is, because after the end of the epidemic nothing will be the same.

Serbian Government: Program of
Anti-Crisis Measures

6. April 2020  •605•    Further

PROGRAM OF ECONOMIC MEASURES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA AIMED AT REDUCING NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF THE CORONA VIRUS AND SUPPORTING SERBIAN ECONOMY

On March 31, 2020 the Government of the Republic of Serbia published the Program of Measures Aimed at Reducing Negative Effects of the Corona Virus and Supporting Serbian Economy (hereinafter: Program), which was explained by the Finance Minister, Siniša Mali.
Main objectives of measures contained in the Program are:

  1. to maintain employment during the state of emergency and
  2. to help enterprises whose functioning has been made difficult, primarily entrepreneurs, micro, small and medium enterprises.
In order to help the economy and the citizens, a total of 608.3 billion dinars (5.1 billion euros) was set aside, which represents a half of the budget of the Republic of Serbia or 11% of its GDP.
The aid will be financed:
  1. partly from the budget and
  2. partly through credits taken on domestic and international capital market (with public debt never exceeding 60% of the GDP).
Program contains four sets of measures
The first set of measures is related to the payment of taxes, aimed at protecting the liquidity of business entities. State will take over the payment of 161 billion dinars (1.3 billion euros).
The list of tax relieves contains:
  1. delay in paying taxes on wages and paying contributions for private companies during the state of emergency (with a subsequent payment in installments, starting from 2021 at the earliest);
  2. delay in paying income taxes for all independent entrepreneurs.
Employers who choose to use the measure under 1) may use the delay in paying taxes on wages and paying contributions till the beginning of 2021, and afterwards they will have a possibility of a further delay up to 24 months, but no longer - without the obligation to pay any interest.
Delay in advance payments of corporate income tax in the second quarter of this year is aimed at increasing the liquidity of tax payers.
Also, givers of donations will be exempted from paying VAT.
The second set of measures is related to directly helping both entrepreneurs paying flat-rate taxes and those paying income tax - micro, small and medium enterprises in the private sector. During the state of emergency they will be paid an aid equal to minimum wage.
Big enterprises whose employees were sent on forced leaves due to the reduction of business activities or complete work stoppage, will be paid a per-worker-aid equaling to 50% of the minimum wage.
This package will cost 97.3 billion dinars (824 million euros), and the money will go directly to workers (around 900,000 of them) through a special account.

The third set of measures is related to protecting the liquidity of business entities. The following is planned:
  1. granting credits for safeguarding liquidity and current assets for companies managed by entrepreneurs, micro, small and medium business entities, agricultural husbandries and cooperatives through the Development Fund;
  2. creating guarantee schemes for the support of economy through commercial banks, where the state will be a warrantor.
One of the ways of financing, which big companies can rely on, is a corporate bond.
Measures contained in those three sets of measures are not applied to business entities which:
  1. during the state of emergency reduced the number of employees by more than 10% (excluding employees with fixed-time contracts whose contracts are to expire during the state of emergency);
  2. temporarily interrupted their operations before the announcement of the state of emergency, i.e. before March 15, 2020.
The Fourth set of measures is related to a 100 euro (per person) aid, which will be paid to every citizen of age.

***

Having in mind that first of the proposed measures will start taking effect only in the second half of May this year, we are of the opinion that they were taken with delay. We also think that certain measures had to be more selective. For example, the aid amounting to 100 euros will be paid to every citizen of age regardless of their level of income, which means that the same amount will be granted to those earning over 200,000 dinars per month and those having no income at all. This example is sufficient to show the unorganized nature of our system of social protection and the effects of non-existence of adequate so-called “social cards” (personal income and ownership data).
It is quite clear that in 2020 Serbia won’t reach the planned growth rate of 4%, but most probably will see it halved.

Economic Measures to Fight
the Effects of the Epidemic

31. March 2020  •604•    Further

President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, said that because of the epidemic of corona virus the government will soon take economic measures necessary for overcoming of the crisis. Everything possible will be done to prevent the dismissals, while all small entrepreneurs will be getting a financial help equal to national minimum wage (250 euros) during next three months. The measures will cost the government round 700 million euros and the resources will come mostly from the budget reserves and loans from domestic and foreign banks. Mentioning the EU decision to loosen budgetary restrictions and a similar IMF recommendation on the subject, he emphasized that Serbia will still take care not to accumulate too much debt and to keep it under the critical 60% of the GDP.
His statement on granting all citizens of age a sum of 100 euros as a kind of “first aid”, was judged by many economists as highly controversial. Many of them disagree with that, considering it would be much better to grant it only to those who were dismissed or belong to vulnerable groups. They are likewise skeptical about the President’s statement that “the decrease of Serbia’s GDP growth rate will be only half of the one of Germany and will permit us to be at the “positive zero” at the end of the year”.
Serbian Association of Managers asked the government to intervene urgently and safeguard the liquidity of small and medium enterprises, help the payment of their workers’ wages and facilitate them to refinance their current liabilities and capital investments. One should not, they think, allow any disruption of the payment chain that could push the country into a deeper crisis. At the same time, the Association has underlined the importance of workers’ health protection and preservation of jobs.
In the meantime, a scandal erupted in the Clinical Centre of Nis, where the management decided to reduce the salaries of health employees suffering from corona virus infection by 35%. Under the pretext of following strictly the provisions of the Labour Law, they “forgot” that we are living in an extraordinary situation, where such cases could have legitimately been treated as work accidents or a professional disease and the employees paid 100% salaries. After a sharp response of the CATUS and other trade unions, director Radovanovic has, however, left space for decision’s revision. It is obvious that the toppling of workers’ rights - in a situation where hundreds of thousands of Serbian citizens express their gratitude and admiration for health workers’ sacrifice by applauding them every evening from their balconies - is fully absurd.

Employers’ Obligations
during the State of Emergency

26. March 2020  •603•    Further

Government’s decree on this subject, fixing the concrete obligations such as health protection of employees, telework, work from home and ban on business travels, was published in the “Official Gazette”, a few days ago.
During the state of emergency the employers need to organize work outside the usual work place, whenever it’s possible and according to the Labour Law and work contracts. Two forms of this “out of building work” are the telework and the work from home. The decree precisely explains that if such possibilities were not stipulated by the above mentioned acts, the alternative forms of work can be introduced by a simple decision. There is however a clause exempting those who are unable to make such decision “due to circumstances related to the nature of the work process”.
The act issued by an employer must precisely define the work time and the ways of monitoring the employees’ work, but also introduce a register of such workers’ activity. Those unable to organize work outside the building must conform to the state of emergency rules and establish shifts in order to have less people massed together in a closed room.
Other rules oblige the employers to organize their business meetings online (though video-links etc.), postpone business travels (both inside and outside the country), safeguard the hygiene at work place and equip workers with masks, gloves and other protective stuff, if needed.
These measures are only a part of a vast plan aimed at containing the spread of the epidemics. A curfew lasting from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. was put in force two weeks ago, but only a week later it was prolonged and covers the period between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. The trespassers are to pay fines which exceed 1000 euros (two and half average wages) and end up in prison for few months. The movement of elderly population outside their homes has been fully forbidden, except for a couple of hours, once or twice a week (for necessary shopping and from 4 to 7 a.m. only). The city and interurban traffic was fully suspended, while the employees organize the transport of their workers by special bus lines. One of these days the closure of all roads going out/to Belgrade, Nis and Valjevo - the cities that were particularly hit by the epidemics - is also expected.

CATUS: “It’s Time for Solidarity!”

20. March 2020  •602•    Further

The epidemic of corona virus is a challenge for all countries, governments, employers and workers.
In fact, it is a challenge for all humankind, and in this fight against the invisible enemy we can win only if we are united, in solidarity and mutual responsibility.
Throughout the history, workers have always been at the front line. Both when they carried guns or helped rebuild what had been destroyed.
Then, as well as nowadays, their health and lives have been in jeopardy.
Employers know that employees are those who manufacture products and render services, develop economies, build countries and create profit while working often overtime and for inadequate wages. They also know they are always ready to show patience when confronted with problems, difficulties and operating delays, as well as with increased work load and employer’s extra claims.
Now is the right moment for employers to show how much they appreciate the employees and their contribution to the well-being of the employers’ class.
That is why we appeal to Serbian Employers’ Association, Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, NALED, Foreign Investors’ Council, American Chamber of Commerce, as well as to all other employers’ associations, business entities and their members and ask them to understand that in order to win and recover we need, more than ever, mutual understanding and joint action.
We are confronted with a dangerous common enemy who doesn’t choose victims following the criteria such as account balance, real-estate or social position.
We ask you to appeal to your members - employers, managers, owners and directors, small and big entrepreneurs, not to lay off workers, but to show them due appreciation and gratitude for past contribution and everything they will still do when danger is gone! Help them keep themselves and their families healthy, guarantee them they won’t be laid off and will get their wages regularly and unreduced!
Let’s all together help mothers with small children, let’s free them of work and allow them to stay at home and take care of their children.
Our population is getting increasingly smaller, so let this be a joint contribution to our country’s struggle for increased birthrate, which is the only thing guaranteeing the survival and future of Serbia.
When the epidemic which endangers the whole nation’s health is over, the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia will appeal to employees to make up for all damage caused by the stoppage of economic activities, contribute to the entire society’s efforts and help rebuild everything that has been destroyed during the current crisis.
Be sure that your employees and the citizens of Serbia are capable of doing it - and they will.

Trade Unionists Victims of Employers’ Arbitrariness

16. March 2020  •601•    Further

As soon as the new government comes into being, the two major Serbian trade union confederations, CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost, will demand the adoption of amendments to the Labour Law enabling the protection of shop-stewards. At the press conference held recently in Belgrade, the CATUS President Orbovic defined the more and more frequent sanctioning of trade union representatives in companies as unacceptable. The problem is present in both private and public companies and the only offense the shop-stewards have committed was their trade union engagement.
The unions are upset that besides women, young and elderly workers, more and more frequently, the victims of discrimination are the people who simply represent workers as company trade unionists. Their rights are violated as soon as their activities start “annoying” the employers, who at the same time favourise and abundantly reward the representatives of various yellow unions. Workers willing to engage with trade unions never expected to have employers’ sympathies nor be glorified by them, but today’s behavior towards them is an open violation of trade union rights and seriously undermines the union’s very existence.
Within the Association of Employers one can, however, hear many sober comments on the issue. Its President has openly declared that those who try to neutralise trade union activities in some companies “resort to a deceptive business practice that causes economic harm to businesses who respect the law”. He also appealed to Government to impose penalties on them and reaffirmed the importance of trade unions helping the employers in companies to notice the deficiencies in the production process.
The Minister of Labour, Djordjevic, said that after the elections, a working group would be established to deal with the amendments to the Labour Law. He invited the employees and unionists to appeal to Labour Inspection whenever it comes to the violation of their rights.

Only 40 Public Companies
Can Be Successfully Privatised

13. March 2020  •600•    Further

By 2014 a myriad of companies which in times of self-management socialism belonged to the community, was reduced to 560. Nowadays, they are 80, and only 40 of them are interesting for potential buyers. The rest is highly questionable and difficult to sell (mostly having unresolved property issues and awaiting court decisions on the subject). According to government sources the already initiated privatization cases will be dealt according to the established model, while those lacking conditions necessary for a legal sale will be closed. This last wave of privatisations has brought to budget less than 10 million euros while the rest went to various creditors.
“Petrohemija”of Pancevo (petrochemical industry), “Lasta” of Belgrade and “Severtrans” of Sombor (bus companies), “JAT Apartments” on mountain Kopaonik (tourism) and “Yugoslav River Transport”, are only few of famous companies that are to be privatised.
In its last report from December last year, the omnipresent IMF suggested to Serbian Government to “resolve” the status of some public companies. On the top of the list was “Petrohemija”, which –according to Fund’s experts - should be sold by the end of 2020. The experts defined it as “unsustainable in the long run”, however, their opinion is not binding for Serbian Government.
It’s interesting that “Petrohemija” has successfully accomplished its well-prepared restructuring plan: 47.7% of its debt was cancelled and the remaining 52.3% converted to company shares. By doing this, the company has become ready to re-enter business life.
The idolatry of private ownership in industry and contempt for any kind of state-sponsored production is typical for Serbian neoliberals. President’s statement (apology) concerning the privatization of the last relevant domestic bank (“Komercijalna bank”) has been highly symptomatic (“A private owner will invest in a profitable way, while public management will look for risky projects”). It has shown one more time the Government’s negative attitude towards community control over the economy and the utmost condescendence to the claims of domestic and international capital.

Trade Union Membership Decline - Whose Guilt It Is?

10. March 2020  •599•    Further

All main trade union confederations in Serbia agree that the guilt lies with all social partners – employers, Government and the unions themselves. Still, the main culprit for them is the Government with its continued effort to eliminate or restrict labour and trade union rights. Namely, in order to attract foreign investors, it has been giving them the incredibly high subsidies and - what’s the worst – promising them not to be subdued to any trade union “pressure”. Such promises have been taken by the international capital quite seriously and made good grounds for a hyper-exploitation and merciless mobbing.
“There is a growing part of working population that is not unionised because they work from home or have fixed-term contracts. These people are ruthlessly exploited and unable to protect themselves. They enjoy only some of the labour rights and they are mostly the youth. Unions do have a problem when it comes to approaching and organising them”, said Ljubisav Orbovic, President of the CATUS and added:”The youngsters often don’t know what a union is. Our strength was in big factories and offices, where people worked under similar conditions and were able to join unions easily and have their interests articulated by them. Nowadays, when many men and women work occasionally or from home or with fixed-term contracts, they know little about the unions. We have to find new ways of approaching and unionising them”.
“Recently, a few groups of workers with atypical contracts asked us to start talks with them about a possibility of organising unions in their domains. It means that by the passing of time these workers have understood they were not willing to go on in the same old way and let the employers exploit them indefinitely. I have the impression that we shall be called to give this kind of assistance more and more frequently”, concluded Orbovic.
Many problems arise from the fact that, according to the law, unions can protect rights and interests only of workers with full-time contracts, and not of those with atypical ones. This reduces the number of potential members to a half. Besides, the company union’s status of legal entity is still obtained by the registration in the Ministry of Labour - a procedure that led to the establishment of round 30,000 of them and made the creation of a unique solidarity or strike fund impossible. Finally, all amendments to labour legislation have constantly been restricting workers’ and trade unions’ rights, first those of 2001, then those of 2005 and definitely those of 2014.

Serbian Spas:
A Privatisation Against Pensioners’ Interests

27. February 2020  •598•    Further

Kursumlijska and Vranjska Spas which belonged to Serbian Pension Fund went to businessmen who paid for them just a miserable sum of money – the toil of workers, who during decades financed the construction of spa hotels was sold for only 72 euros per square meter! The maneuvre was enabled by some amendments to a law, while other 27 sales are to follow yet. The Government’s plan to privatize all the spas has motivated the Association of Pensioners of Serbia (APTUS) to submit a law suit before the court.
The difficulty lies in the fact that businessmen who got the two spas are close to the ruling party. This liaison made it possible in fact to buy them at a price that was far under their market value. The result of this acquisition will be a further impoverishment of the Pension Fund.
The law was amended in 2014 when the number of members of the Fund Administration Board was reduced from twenty-one to seven, the four of whom were to be appointed by the Government. Thus, the previous balance was broken and the Government given power to influence decisively the governing body’s decisions. The brakes which in the past blocked the privatization of people’s property were disabled. All admonitions of the Fund’s legal expert concerning the illegality of the coming privatization were ignored and he was eventually fired.
President of the APTUS, Radovic, explains that the suit was submitted against each member of the Board individually. “We warned them that the sale is unconstitutional but they opted for a good “prey”. I say prey because we have obviously to deal with a robbery”, concluded the President who is preparing himself for a long and fierce legal battle.

Half Million Serbian Citizens Unable
to Satisfy Their Basic Needs

25. February 2020  •597•    Further

On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, Serbian Ombudsman Zoran Pasalic warned that according to the latest data round 500,000 Serbian citizens cannot afford products and services considered essential for a civilized life. Mostly exposed to the risk of poverty are families with three or more children, the sick, unemployed and youth under eighteen. Their position he described as “extremely difficult”.
“In the times of restrictions, the Government support for children, youth and elderly people is necessary, as well as the strengthening of right to social security, health, education and employment. It is also important to act in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility for those who are mostly exposed to social risks and unable to solve their problems without help of the organized society”, concluded Panic.
Serbian unions often warned that only a radically different economic policy might save us from the present disaster: the country should have its own development strategy, invest in vital segments (such as infrastructure, education and research) and keep control over the still existing public services. Relying mostly on foreign investment was never a successful growth strategy – it was more a debt one had to pay to one’s foreign sponsors.

Epidemic of Corona Virus
Affects Production in FCA Kragujevac

14. February 2020  •596•    Further

It seems that because of a lack of spare parts “Made in China”, machines in FCA Kragujevac will rest during the next few weeks. The production was stopped on February 13 and there are rumours it could be restarted only at the end of the month or in the first week of March. The main victim is the popular model 500l.
Workers who were sent to forced leave will be paid as in other unplanned production stoppages, getting 65% of the full salary (or 60% in the main FCA subcontractor “FIAT Plastics”).
For the moment, the most disadvantageous shortages are those of CD players, which make part of any new car, plastic components used in production of bumpers (usually delivered by “FIAT Plastics”) and parts of instrument panels (produced in Serbia by “Adient”company that was bought by the Chinese from “Johnson Control”, a few years ago).

Hyper-Exploitation of Migrant
Workers Causes Anger

10. February 2020  •595•    Further

Recently we learnt that more than a hundred Indian citizens working temporarily in Serbia were unlawfully exploited although employed at the state-monitored infrastructural projects. Their work contracts were of poor quality and according to the experts, even contrary to the law. The most notorious case is the one concerning Indian workers hired by the company “Nikic d.o.o.” of Kraljevo, who turned to ASTRA, a non-governmental organisation specialised in combtting human trafficking and asked for assistance for protection of their rights. ASTRA confirmed the news that Indian workers have been building the new railway line between Belgrade and Budapest, as well as at the Corridor 11 (the highway linking Central Europe with Greece and Turkey), work conditions at the construction sites were bad, the employer failed to pay their wages and often fined them contrary to the law.
The end of the story has been rather sad, as the main part of workers flew back to India and 15 who decided to stay will be given 100 euros before leave – nothing compared to 360 dollars a month plus extra hours, promised before signing the contracts. It’s obvious that we are in the presence of a classic fraud: knowing that work standards and wages were much lower in India than in Serbia, workers lacked information concerning their rights and were already accustomed to be deprived of them in their homeland - the employer consciously decided to rob them. Highly suspicious excuses (“the payment delay of business partners indebted to us made us postpone the payment of wages”) cannot be taken seriously. The scandalous behavior of Serbian state authorities, which closed their eyes before a flagrant violation of domestic regulation at one of their own construction sites, cannot be justified either.
The unions are enraged. They supported the strike initiated spontaneously by a considerable group of workers and are now demanding a compensation for those who suffered losses because of the violation of their contracts. A far tougher reaction of the Government is required, they say, and demand the companies like “Nikolic d.o.o.” be banned from participating in public procurement tenders. At the same time, it’s high time the unions started organizing migrant workers, who choose Serbia for their temporary destination - in spite of its 430 euro average wage.

Unions for a Ban on Sunday Work

6. February 2020  •594•    Further

The commercial sector in Serbia is rather specific: it encompasses round 200,000 workers, 70% of them are women and wages are 30% under the national average. Currently, there is a big campaign aimed at eliminating the work on Sundays echoed by both positive and negative reactions. In the EU, the issue was left to the member states, which have the full freedom to regulate it following their specific cultural and religious traditions. So far, nine countries decided to have their shops closed on Sundays, while there are such examples even out of the EU, too (Montenegro).
In Serbia, it was mostly unions to fight against the work on Sundays. There are, however, rumours about a forthcoming tripartite meeting of employer, union and government representatives, who are to deal with this problem and evaluate various options. Unionists are unanimously for fully work-free Sundays, while the employers prefer to see shops closed only at the end of the first (or first and last) week. It was also proposed only to limit working hours (until 11 o’clock in the morning). The government seems to be rather positive about the unions’ initiative and gave them even some signs of support.
The workers in the sector generally earn only round 30,000 dinars (254 euros, which equals the minimum wage) a month and are not paid extra hours. In addition, they have no extra bonus for Sundays. The employers like to quote the example of Montenegro, where the enacting of a similar law caused a dismissal of 15% of the work force. They also hint on a wage reduction, but given the already poor wages it seems pretty absurd and is unacceptable.
CATUS Vice-President Vukovic is categorical: the main culprit for the work overload in commerce is Serbian Labour Law, which stipulates that “Sunday is usually a day-off”. The term “usually” was then interpreted by the employers as “never”, i.e. in a way to suit their greed for profit. “Unions are convinced that the work-free Sundays would contribute to the growth of productivity and give people more opportunities to spend time with their children - without negatively affecting the GDP. The example of some developed countries has already proved it”, said Vukovic, adding that “any talk about a possible reduction of wages cannot be considered other than shameful”.

Management of Clinical Hospital Centre
Accepted Strikers’ Claims

24. January 2020  •593•    Further

Warning strike in the Belgrade CHC was organised on December 24 last year and after intense negotiations all (eight) strikers’ claims were accepted. The agreement between the union and the management was signed on January 13.
This time strikers (mostly nurses serving food, cleaners and administrative-technical staff) did not claim a usual salary increase, but protested against the lack of personnel.
Typical example of a burn-out has been a nurse obliged to serve food for 110 to 120 patients or deliver it in three separate facilities and the one who was in charge of 22 to 24 patients during her night shift. The number of cleaners was also extremely low: instead of 48 they were only 24!
The agreement that was signed stipulates the employment of additional staff and different distribution of tasks. Over-time, Sundays and night work will be fully remunerated. An anti-mobbing clause was also added, as well as the one defining the payment of stimulant bonuses to professions whose deficiency is strongly felt at Serbian labour market.
Aware of the growing number of doctors and nurses emigrating to EU and further, the management agreed to initiate at the Ministry of Health (within 30 days) the creation of a list of new, more advantageous coefficients used in calculating salaries.

After December 9 Break,
Production in “FCA Serbia” Restarted

21. January 2020  •592•    Further

After being sent to forced leave and additionally granted a paid absence, the FCA workers are back at their work places in Kragujevac producing the planned number of FIAT 500L. In the company trade union organisation (affiliated to the CATUS) we were told that in the months to come two shifts should produce 209 cars a day.
Union President Markovic told us that last year was “terrible” as there were many non-working days, plus 132 days of a paid leave, vacations and state holidays. Markovic was the leader of the big strike in 2018 and later appeared at the session of the European Parliament organized by the European United Left/Nordik Green Left to speak about it.
“We hope we’ll have our place within the 2020 global restructuring of the company, work more and finally witness the start of a new FCA model production”, said Markovic in an interview delivered to the press. He concluded by saying that” in 2019 workers’ hopes, unfortunately, did not come true”.
FCA arrived to Serbia with great promises and was largely assisted by the government which was hopeful of new quality jobs and more budget contributions. However, a simple review of the company production shows that in 2019 it was far under the optimum level of 150,000 vehicles a year.

Serbia: Workers’ Conditions Better
in Public than in Private Sector

18. January 2020  •591•    Further

In an interview delivered to Serbian media during his visit to Nis, CATUS President Orbovic said that last five years were extremely difficult for Serbian workers. That period was marked by low salaries/pensions and a ban on new employment in public sector. CATUS did its best, but is still not satisfied with the achievements.
“We pressed for a general increase of wages and managed to raise minimum salaries by 42.4 % in last four years, which means they got much closer to the price of the consumer’s basket than they were before. We fought fiercely for even bigger amount, but the government was not ready to accept it. Nevertheless, this year it has grown much faster than in the past”, said Orbovic. He also mentioned the government’s plan for ”900 euro wages in 2025” and pointed to the union’s role in monitoring and supporting that process.
“Even if the government has partially improved the life of public servants, the unions are generally not satisfied with current workers’ conditions - the wages are still low, especially in the private sector. One of the main problems is the lack of sectorial collective agreements. Signing of such agreements will be one of our priorities in the times-to-come”, concluded Orbovic.
It’s a fact that last few years Serbia was earmarked by a lagging economy, high unemployment, low wages and a lack of trade union presence in small and medium enterprises. Workers, exposed to employers’ pressure often could not look for shelter under the union’s umbrella. One of the positive facts was CATUS lobbying labour inspection, which forced the employers to pay minimum wages regularly. The establishment of company trade union organisations in industrial sector was put forward as one of the most important trade union tasks.

Dramatic Wage Increase in Serbia
by 2025: Dream or Reality?

15. January 2020  •590•    Further

Serbian President Vucic spoke recently about the domestic average wage rising from 500 euros in 2020 to 900 euros in 2025. The statement which was met with both enthusiasm and skepticism lit up a fervent discussion, which still lasts. How to attain the 80% growth of salaries if the 2025 GDP would be increased by only 51%? Our famous economist Stamenkovic also expressed his opinion on the feasibility of the idea.
He mentioned four main ways of reaching the above-mentioned objective. First, by diminishing the part of the GDP intended for investments. Second, by decreasing the deduction (contributions and taxes) from the gross salary (from current 38.25 to 15.9% - which would seriously damage the public Pension fund). Third, by increasing import and foreign trade deficit. Fourth, by increasing the GDP itself (by an annual 10.2% growth). Of course, these four methods can always be combined in order to find the best solution.
Some economists quote the example of Romania that managed to increase the average wage from 357 euros in 2013 to 641 euros in 2019, which is exactly the same (79%) increase Vucic intends to realise in Serbia. (Curiously, the Romanian GDP growth was also identical with the one planned in Serbia i.e. 51%). All this was done in Romania without disturbing considerably the equilibrium of macro-economic indexes: the investments decreased from 22.9% to 21% and foreign trade deficit grew from 42.1% to 44.6% - the changes which cannot be described as radical.
Another economist, Arsic, sees in Vucic’s statement “promises related to electoral campaign” which are “non-realistic”. Our foreign trade deficit has already reached 6% of the GDP and it would be dangerous to allow its further increase. There are no sufficient savings in Serbia able to substitute the lack of public investment (unlike in China which before starting the GDP and salary growth disposed of a big reserve fund). A salary increase surpassing the productivity increase would negatively affect our competitiveness at the global market. A smaller part of gross salaries going to the health insurance fund and budget would seriously affect the quality of social services... Arsic doesn’t consider the example of Romania as a valid one either, as before the start of the reform their salaries made only 19.4% of the country’s GDP (giving space for a considerable increase), while in Serbia their participation in the GDP is already 41.5%.
In economy, the reality can hardly be concealed by words and very soon we shall be able to witness the truthfulness of these statements ourselves.

Labour Law Used as Employers’
Instrument to Fight Labour

20. December 2019  •589•    Further

There are individual cases representing perfectly the general state of affairs, so what has been happening to our worker Dragana Bozic is a precious (and tragic) indicator of some negative trends in Serbian society. She is a tailor working in company “Healthcare Europe” in Ruma and was employed in 2015 after meeting all the necessary criteria. Her work contract defined the nature of her work which corresponded to her qualifications, she worked hard, with high sense of responsibility, was praised by the bosses and presented as exemplary.
The problems started when due to her popularity among the fellow-workers she was elected president of the company trade union (affiliated to CATUS) which soon after the establishment proved to be representative. Sticking to the Labour Law she made effort to improve work conditions and occupational health and safety, insisted on the full respect of legal working time, fought against illegal extra work and gender discrimination. A reaction typical for many Serbian employers was very prompt.
The management initiated the creation of its own “yellow” union and started putting pressure on the members of CATUS in the company to pass over to it, promising “more safety and better protection of their rights”. Affiliation forms were quickly distributed to all workers in an attempt to neutralize the growing influence of the only representative – and what was more dangerous – authentic union. Dragana was offered to sign an annex to the work contract sending her to a new work post completely inadequate to her qualifications and work results. As a cleaner assistant(!) she would allegedly “be able to use her knowledge in a right way and considerably contribute to a successful completion of her new tasks”. Serbian Labour Law forbids deployment to work posts that do not correspond to one’s qualifications and Dragana refused to sign the humiliating document. She was fired.
This maneuver is one of the favourite employers’ instruments meant at curbing unions. Ready to defend her dignity, but not fully aware of the employer’s malevolence, Dragana made a mistake. Jurists would have advised her to sign the annex and then file a complaint before the court. The Labour Inspection was strict: she violated the law and the dismissal was quite legal.
We appreciate the Inspection’s fondness of legality but are afraid it’s extremely partial. How can we forget those millions of unpaid work hours, trade union harassment, mobbing, gender discrimination, lack of safety measures, delayed salaries… that were tolerated and passed unpunished? The law exists to be implemented in any particular case and not arbitrarily. Or at the beginning of the 21st century we are still not equal before the law?
If cases like this one start happening five or six times a month (and they do), a time has come to ring the alarm. Is it a new epidemic disease infesting Serbia? Have the employers finally found ideal means to frighten unions and workers? If trade unionists are not safe, will workers themselves be ready to join the unions? A government aspiring to join the EU should be aware that the elimination of social dialogue can never be an argument speeding up the accession.