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.

Post of Serbia: End of the Nine Day Strike

18. December 2019  •588•    Further

Decision to end the strike was taken after postal workers’ acceptance of the salary increase proposal which was rejected a week ago. The signing of the agreement gives hope not only for the payment of delayed pensions, but also for the re-establishment of the normal functioning of this vital public service.
Demand of the workers who wanted to see their salaries increased up to the national average was not met, as they will be receiving round 3,000 dinars less than that. But it’s highly positive that the well-paid employees (2,500 of them) and the underpaid non-office workers (12,500 of them) will get a different increase - the former 6.1% and the latter 13.1%. Those whose salaries were extremely low (postmen and counter workers) will get a special 16% increase. It’s important news, especially if one has in mind that the management’s idea was to increase everyone’s salary by the same percentage (10%), additionally broadening the gap between the two groups.
From January 1, 2020 the holiday allowance will be increased by 1000 dinars (8,5 euros) and new 150 non-office workers employed. In March next year part of the company’s profit will be paid-out to workers through a bonus. More effort will be made to employ lacking work force, a part of which left because of low salaries.
No worker will be suspended for their participation in the strike. The full normalization of the postal traffic is expected within seven to ten days.

Future of Serbia in Jeopardy :
How to Stop Youth Emigration?

17. December 2019  •587•    Further

According to the newest data 30,000 to 60,000 people left Serbia last year. Average age of the emigrants was 28 and one in four was highly educated. Even more alarming are the results of an inquiry made by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development showing that one third of 11,000 students who were interviewed said they were planning to leave the country after graduating. Measured by an indicator known as “the capacity to keep the talents from going abroad”, Serbia is at the 134th place on the list of 137 countries - a fact that makes us even more pessimistic.
These results correspond to the results of an inquiry made last year by “Friedrich Ebert Foundation” indicating that three quarters of young Serbs wish or are intending to emigrate. This makes Serbia a regional “leader”, as in other Southeast European countries only half of the young population cherish that idea. The most quoted reasons for emigrating were “bad economic situation” and “unpredictable future”. The young are, however, convinced that Government could do more to improve their status: finance advanced training programs, make higher education more accessible, help more actively those coming from disadvantaged groups, combat inequalities in education and at work place, facilitate departure from family homes and beginning of independent life.
Primary and secondary schools have understood the importance of the advancing IT sector and opened their gates to future generations of IT specialists. At the moment, the basic knowledge in computer programming is acquired already in fifth and sixth grade of the primary school. The National Employment Service has also been active, organizing retraining for those whose skills do not correspond to the needs of the labour market.
Dual education has become reality in secondary schools and will soon be integrated into high education. Study accompanied by work should help companies find adequate staff, create new job possibilities and prevent further emigration. More than 800 companies accepted the role of partners in the system of dual education. It ought to be said that Serbian Government has made some important steps, too. More money was invested in research centers, while companies employing young people enjoy tax reliefs (70% less taxes in first year of employment, 65% in the second and 60% in the third).
In next few years, the investments aimed at raising the birth rate will reach 200 million euros. A Coordination Team monitoring economic migration was also created and some important economic policy measures adopted, their objective being the creation of a better business environment, a speed-up of digitalization and new, good quality, jobs.

Post of Serbia: Post of Serbia:
Two Hundred Workers Suspended

12. December 2019  •586•    Further

The reason for suspension of workers is their participation in the strike which has shaken not only one of the oldest institutions of Serbia but a big part of the public, as well. Workers demand a salary that would equal the national average, i.e. they want 54,000 dinars (458 euros) per month and are not ready to step back. A letter announcing the suspension has been sent mostly to the addresses in Vojvodina, but colleagues from Belgrade are also expecting them soon. In Serbia what does it mean to be suspended?
It means that the salaries of the suspended workers will be considerably reduced. Those who are parents will receive one third of their monthly salary and only a third of their monthly contributions will be paid to social funds. Those who have no children will get only 25% of the salary. If one considers that postal workers often earn only 30,000 dinars (254 euros) per month, it means they will have to survive with miserable 7,000 to 9,000 dinars (59 to 76 euros)!
Among the many who suffer from the strike especially affected are the retirees who receive their pensions at home. To satisfy their expectations the Post will engage workers with three or six month contracts, which is a typical strike-breaking. The management is resolutely taking measures to “facilitate a smooth functioning of the public service”. As far as workers are concerned, they have asked pensioners for patience and appealed to them to understand that the strike was the only way of turning public attention to the vital problems in the sector.
“The Law on Strike was made in order to deprive employees of this fundamental right. The Post is under-staffed and it prevents workers from complying with procedural rules and requirements to provide minimum levels of essential service”, explains Zoran Pavlovic, president of the postal union affiliated to CATUS.
For the moment, the government is keeping silence on its further steps, while workers are sending message that “suspensions will not stop them”.

Post of Serbia: CATUS Support for Striking Workers

10. December 2019  •585•    Further

The longest and most massive strike ever organised in Serbian Post goes on. It was seven days ago when its employees stopped delivering letters and parcels to clients, and there are still no signs of a possible agreement. According to the relevant sources round 8,000 out of 15,000 workers are on strike, which was provoked mostly by the management’s refusal to increase wages and amend numerous irregularities criticized not only within company’s walls. The lowest amounts paid to the employees at the end of a month vary between 20,000 dinars (170 euros, in case they are hired as seasonal workers) and 40,000 dinars (340 euros, providing they have a full-time contract). In an attempt to break the strike the first to be threatened by a dismissal are the vulnerable categories of workers.
There were cases where at the request of the management the workers had to do extra hours and perform work not stipulated by their work contracts. More and more often they receive work orders, which they mostly refuse, but not without a risk of dismissal. The negotiations conducted so far gave no result: the management’s proposal for workers with secondary school diploma (45,000 dinars i.e. 373 euros) is still far away from workers’ demand (54,000 dinars i.e. 458 euros). The employees hope to reach a compromise at 50,000 dinars, which would equal average Serbian salary. They are mostly irritated by the fact that management wanted to grant a 10% increase to all – in the case of those earning 29,000 a month it would be ridiculous, in the case of the privileged earning 160,000, exaggerated. Much more equitable and realistic was a proposal of selective increases varying between 5% and 13%.
CATUS has given full support to workers on strike. For us it is unacceptable that the two thirds of workers in a public service have salaries below the national average and do not participate in the share of the company’s profit. We also fully disagree with the management’s tactics of reducing the number of employees and putting an additional pressure on the remaining ones.
In its appeal CATUS also invites citizens to be patient and show understanding for workers’ discontent disrupting temporarily a normal functioning of the postal service.

New Law on Occupational Health and
Safety to Stop Mass Accidents at Work

28. November 2019  •584•    Further

The new law that should be adopted until the end of this year will hopefully make both employers and workers more responsible, while the Labour Inspection will have the obligation to close the “foul” construction sites for at least three days.
The Ministry of Labour insists that the employers must understand the importance of this issue, especially because the preservation of workers health is in their interest, too. “The investment in health and safety at work usually does not represent a big sacrifice for them and there are enough experts in that field. Moreover, we shall do our best to offer them all necessary information on the subject”, explains one of the officials.
Marina Furtula, the Acting Director of the Directorate for Health and Safety at Work points out the fact that since 2006, 526 people lost their lives, mostly in accidents at construction sites. Last year, the death toll was 53. “The law will impose the wearing of safety belts while working at heights, in depths and on electric installations. In addition, only workers with a license will be authorized to perform those jobs”.
The new law will stipulate an obligatory training in the use of safety equipment, as well as a complete security plan for construction sites which are in place for more than three days. An expert adviser in the field will also become an obligation.
The inspectors will have the right to impose penalties on the spot, without the right to appeal. The maximum penalty amount was raised from one million (8,500 euros) to two million dinars (17,000 euros). The experts are convinced that the strict application of the law would reduce the number of infractions considerably. Last year, the total amount of fines imposed by the courts was 246 million dinars (2.085 million euros), while the strict application of the law would have added to the budget additional 4 billion dinars (34 million euros)! Moreover, no one was ever sentenced to the maximum 12 years in jail, provided for by the law.

Pensioners Ready to Fight to the End

21. November 2019  •583•    Further

Serbian pension system covers 1,715,000 pensioners in a situation where 2,160,000 people work regularly and 650, 000 seasonally. The fact that Pension Fund disposes annually of 6 billion euros makes the issue of its finance and governance very important. Until the adoption of amendments on the law regulating its work the Fund was governed by equal number of worker, employer and Government representatives. Then, in 2014 the number of Administration board members was reduced from 21 to 7 and 4 of them were to be Government representatives. That enabled the ruling elite to easily reach the majority on crucial issues such as the reform of the Fund, sale of spas, etc. One must have in mind that the Fund is financed from workers’ and employers’ contributions, state subsidies and its own property.
The situation in which the Fund worked was marked by some extreme Government measures: a general decrease of pensions higher than 200 euros, abolition of the automatic adjustment of pensions to the growth of inflation, favouring of certain groups of pensioners, etc. These are the main reasons pushing for the opening of a broad debate on Fund’s reform.
Pensioners would like to see the Fund governed by those who contributed to it throughout their lives. Their rights should be guaranteed by the law. Its plans and activity reports should be approved by the National Assembly, who should also appoint the members of its Administration and Supervisory Board. The Government’s debt to pensioners caused by the anti-constitutional decrease of pensions in 2014, should be duly paid. The growth of pensions should follow the growth of inflation, with the adjustments being done twice a year. The property of the Fund, mostly spas, should be protected and used for safeguarding its financial stability.
In future, one might expect more pensioners’ rallies, as well as a suit before the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights – once our Constitutional Court ignored the repeated pensioners’ demand to examine the constitutionality of the Government’s 2014 Decree

State of Employment in Serbia: a Sad Story

13. November 2019  •582•    Further

While the official propaganda speaks about an unprecedented growth of employment, a study on decent work in Serbia shows that it’s a place in Europe with the highest percentage of people working with shorter-than-three-months work contracts. In last few years their number has considerably increased – from 4.6% to 11.4%. In comparison with the year 2014, the total number of those with fixed-term contracts has grown by one third, while the growth of the full-time contracts was much more moderate - only 5.5%. Currently, only half of the working population has a job that might not be defined as “precarious”. At the same time, measures aimed at diminishing informal labour have not given result, one third of Serbs still working in “shade economy”.
Having in mind that 600,000 informal workers and 130,000 self-employed in agriculture do not benefit from the social security system, it’s not strange that one out of ten employees and one out of three self-employed are at risk of poverty. People in informal sector don’t enjoy usual rights that their colleagues with regular contracts do. Either the laws do not protect workers sufficiently, or they are not enforced. So, for example, the employers, Government and courts are free to interpret the minimum wage arbitrarily.
Well-known economist Mario Reljanovic explains that the employment has grown only on paper. “If it were really so, we could also witness the growth of the GDP and it’s not the case”, he says, adding that “the majority of those who are no more registered with the unemployment bureau, didn’t find a job but were simply eliminated from the list”. The main job security indicator is the average length of service and in Serbia it has decreased from 12.3 years in 2014 to 11.4 years in 2017.
The active labour market policy measures, continues Reljanovic, have not given much result and it’s quite understandable if we consider the fact that amount for that purpose fixed in the “Strategy 2020” at 0.5% of the GDP was never reached (in 2010 it was only 0.1 of the GDP and in 2017 it fell to the scandalous 0.08). Only 4.1% of the registered unemployed benefitted from these means, but ended up mostly working part-time or as seasonal workers – only 20% signed full-time contracts. While in the EU the employees working for a salary are 85%, in Serbia they are only 70%. If we go on with comparisons, we shall see that while in the EU the average employment rate is 67.6%, in Serbia it is only 57.3% (only Greece with 53.5% being worse than us).
Vice-President of the CATUS, Vukovic, says that our Confederation has been warning for years about the negative trends, especially after the Government had announced the adoption of the Law on Agency Work which could only make things worse. “The core of the problem is the economic policy based on offering cheap labour to foreign investors eager to make extra-profit. That creates the atmosphere of fear and discontent forcing people into exile”, concludes Vukovic.

Government Should Govern, Not Subsidise Spas

8. November 2019  •581•    Further

The experts are unanimous: the Government’s subsidising private investors who want to build or restore hotels in our spas is a serious offence committed against the interests of the citizens.
According to Serbian legislation, all such investors – be they foreigners, or our co-nationals – are entitled to subsidies granted by Serbian Agency for Development, on condition the minimum value of the project be 2 million euros and the staff consist of at least 70 employees. In that case, the Agency covers the 20% of project’s value. This way of restoring the spas is inadequate, counter-productive and brings no benefit either to Government or citizens.
Particularly vociferous is the famous economic analyst Branko Pavlovic who is convinced that instead of subsidising private investors, the Government should become the spas’ owner. “As this kind of tourism is highly profitable, there is no need to sibsidise anyone who wants to invest. The Government itself should take over hotels and other facilities in spas, and thus safeguard some additional inflow into the budget”, he says.
In fact, it’s senseless to use the public money in order to enrich certain individuals at the expense of the society. A measure like this is a continuation of an absurd policy criticised even by the World Bank officials. The owner of spas should be the community – either through Government, or Pension Fund, and all income should be used for public investment in health care, education and social protection.
A debate on the subject started after PLANIKA Ltd., owner of several Serbian spas and producer of famous “Prolom” mineral water got 1.6 million euros from the budget for the construction of a new hotel. The project should be 8.1 million euros worth and employ 70 workers with fixed-time contracts.

Half Million Serbs
Hardly Make Their Ends Meet

4. November 2019  •580•    Further

Serbian Government’s Team for Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction has defined the country’s absolute poverty income to be 12.286 dinars (104 euros) per month. Paradoxically, for 7.1% of Serbs that amount is still a dream! The fact that compared to 2017 the poverty decreased by 0.1% is of little help, as a half million citizens cannot satisfy their existential needs, yet.
The poverty is still more present in rural than in urban areas - the ratio between the poor living in the cities and villages remained mostly the same: 4.8% to 10.4%. Its geographical distribution has not changed either, mostly affected being South and East Serbia, the least Belgrade and Vojvodina.
The analysis of the available data shows that poverty is more typical in households where the level of education is low, the children abundant and the employment lacking. Fortunately, the level of child poverty has decreased in comparison with 2017 (7.8% compared to 9.5%).
There would be 120,000 poor people more if there were no self-organised manufacturing of products aimed at satisfying one’s basic needs. The manufacturing increases families’ income and contributes to decrease of Gini index value.
Government’s intervention in this domain through money transfers helps a lot – without it, there would be 9.9% instead of 7.1% poor, i.e. 195,000 more citizens living under the poverty line. If we include pensions in transfers, their positive impact would be even bigger – without them 36.4% of Serbs would not have been able to satisfy their basic needs.
After 200 years of trade union struggles, 50 years of Welfare State in the West and 45 years of life in the self-managed socialist Yugoslavia, the conclusion can be only one: a disaster!

Unions against New Law on
Occupational Health and Safety

31. October 2019  •579•    Further

The law should be adopted until the end of this year, but it has not been approved by the government and Parliament, yet. The Ministry of Labour has published the draft on its web site, without anyone being acquainted with a version that might be offered to the MPs. One of the main problems is the lack of consensus in the Economic and Social Council, where both representative unions - CATUS and TUC Nezavisnost - were categorically against the government/employers’ proposal. The main stumbling block was their refusal to establish the institution of trade union national coordinator for health and safety and make OHS councils in the companies obligatory. Generally, the drafts coming into the Parliament often have nothing to do with those coordinated by the social partners!
Although the draft recalls the principles of the ILO, the ILO coordinator in Serbia, Jovan Protic, was not invited to participate in the debates. The Chamber of Construction Industry of Serbia was not seriously consulted either. Goran Rodic from the Chamber is very critical about this. “As many times before, the professionals were not consulted” he says and adds that “the main problem in the sector is the non-implementation of the law, as well as the practice of courts to issue with delay sentences against those who were “caught”. We had so many deadly accidents and I can’t remember that anyone was put to trial. Without efficient sanctions the laws are just a fiction and the sanctions are lacking because the construction business is in the hands of the people who are close to the regime”. Rodic also mentions non-registered workers, mostly Albanians and Pakistanis, whose injuries at work are not reported to the authorities.
There are, however, some good sides of the draft, especially those related to the increased fines and Labour Inspection rights, obligatory education for work on high buildings and deep under the water, licences, Registry of work accidents, etc. Unfortunately, for the lack of a software, the Registry will start working only when its electronic form is put in place. However, no one knows exactly when it might happen.
Many remember with nostalgia “good old époque of socialism” when each construction site had an emergency room and ambulance, while in a case of an accident the site manager was automatically put to jail. Isn’t it possible to combine democratic and liberal values with demands for more health and safety at work? Must the new society be shaped mostly by the neoliberal rules? The unions are not sure that the government and the employers gave a satisfactory answer to these questions.

Number of Peacefully Settled
Labour Disputes Increased

20. October 2019  •578•    Further

The number of such cases has in fact doubled compared to 2018, as more and more workers avoid strikes and complicated court procedure and choose mediation of the Agency for Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes. (Compared to 2010 the facts are even more striking: the number of mediations being ten times bigger than nine years ago). The main reasons for such growth are the amendments to the legislation which gave the Agency more powers, as well as the adoption of its Code of Ethics.
In last few years, the Agency has become a more important player in Serbian social dialogue, which - according to the Minister of Labour, Djordjevic - is one the Government’s priorities.
Director of the Agency, Radivojevic, points to the fact that the majority of its “verdicts” were of the “win-win” type and welcomed by both workers and employers. Eleven collective disputes were also solved through mediation - five of them related to collective agreements, three to representativeness issues and two to strikes. The unions see the agency as a relevant component of modern, democratic industrial relations. As a “weaker part”, they benefit from the fact they are no more obliged to go to courts which in Serbia are often inefficient.
Since its foundation, the Agency was involved in 32 collective and 2,194 individual disputes. The latter were mostly related to dismissals, mobbing, compensation of workers’ travel costs, payment of remaining salaries and years-of-service rewards, and in 1796 cases a solution satisfying both parts was found.

Informal sector in Serbia Resisting Reforms

10. October 2019  •577•    Further

In spite the intense efforts to suppress the informal work, many workers are still ready to receive wages without employers’ contributions paid to workers’ social funds. Only in the first eight months of the 2019 the Labour Inspection inspected 40,000 companies and found 9,747 workers without regular work contracts.
It seems that employers are so satisfied with their profits that they would rather pay heavy fines stipulated by the law than register the staff. Zoran Mihailovic, General Secretary of the CATUS, explains: ”Serbia is still a country where a job is a privilege and many workers are ready to receive wages without contributions paid to their funds. Later on, they often understand it’s a mistake and do their best to get registered”.
It’s quite difficult to map companies violating the law, working mostly in sectors such as construction, catering and crafts. Giving more competence to labour inspection and trade union supervisors might help “hunting down” employers who avoid complying with their obligations. For many of them paying fines - 300,000 to 5 million dinars (2,540 to 42,370 euros) for companies and 50,000 to 300,000 dinars (423 to 2,540 euros) for individual transgressors - is not a heavy burden. The fact that by doing so they also evade paying taxes might lead to the conclusion that they could be prosecuted additionally, which in turn could diminish the number of transgressions.

Public Utilities Union: Strike if
Government Doesn’t Increase Salaries

8. October 2019  •576•    Further

Employees in Serbian public utilities are resolute in their decision and are already preparing themselves for the action planned for October 16. The strike will start if the government by October 9 does not respond positively to union’s claim for higher salaries.
The decision to prepare a strike was taken at October 3rd session of the Presidency of the Union of Employees in Communal and Housing Industry of Serbia. It was accelerated by the negative attitude of the government towards the communal sector, which has been exempted from any salary increase for six years and suffered even a 10% reduction in last five years.
This has led to a situation where the employees in utility sector, with an average salary of 36,000 dinars (305 euros) per month, cannot afford neither the minimum consumer’s basket.
One more proof of workers’ difficulties is the fact that more than 35% of the employees receive a minimum wage and with the increase of that minimum coming into force in 2020 there will be more than 40% of them. In fact, the wages of all workers lacking high school education will then be at the "minimum" level.
Although the union has repeatedly pointed to these alarming data through letters and requests for meetings with government officials, the new plan for salary increase in public sector does not mention additional means for utility workers and only tries to satisfy them by bringing their salaries to the level they were at before the 2014 reduction!
The solution to the problem was not found neither after a letter recently sent to Prime Minister Brnabic (in which the union explained the necessity of salary increase), nor in direct talks with the Ministry of Finance.

Entertaining Industry:
Labour Inspection Taking an Offensive

7. October 2019  •575•    Further

Autumn in Serbia will be gloomy for musicians and employers violating the recently signed collective agreement in entertaining industry. The enhanced controls will follow soon and those caught while illicitly breaching the regulation will face heavy fines.
The news was announced at the seminar organized by the Labour Inspectorate of Serbia and the Autonomous Union of Entertainers of Serbia at the end of September in Vrnjacka Banja.
The keynote speakers were Director of the Inspectorate, Stevan Djurovic and President of the Union, Dragisa Golubovic, who informed the public that after the collective agreement had been signed, the number of work contracts increased by round 30 percent. Serbian budget also benefitted from this, so the Inspectorate gave new instructions to inspectors authorizing further actions all over the country.
Thus, in the coming period the inspectors, in coordination with union supervisors, will intensify controls in order to ensure that all musicians and impresarios respect the extended effect of the collective agreement approved by the Government.
The fines stipulated by the Labor Law in the case the entertainers do their job without a contract, amount to two million dinars and may include the closure of the facility.

Serbian Workers’ Victory in Strasbourg

26. September 2019  •574•    Further

Serbian government unilaterally increased the minimum wage for the next year after social partners’ failure to agree. Instead of 155 dinars (1.3 euros), it will be 172 dinars (1.46 euros) per hour. It means that per month those doomed to receive it will get 30,000 instead of 27,000 dinars (254 instead of 228 euros). Minister of Finance, Mali, said it was the “biggest increase of minimum wage ever recorded in the history of Serbia”. During negotiations the unions demanded a 20% increase while the employers were ready to agree only to 5 to 6%.
After the publication of the decision, the CATUS President Orbovic said that unions didn’t give their consent to the amount fixed by the government. “Not long ago we agreed that in 2021 the minimum wage should equal the consumer’s basket, but with the increase decided by the government it is impossible”, he concluded. His colleague from Nezavisnost, Stojiljkovic, also commented on the “lack of a compromise” and a unilateral government’s “proposal”. They did not express their opinion about Minister of Labour, Djordjevic’s comment that the increase was so generous because the government wanted to see its effects spread to the rest of wages and pensions. In Serbia 350.000 workers get the minimum wage.
It’s symptomatic of the government’s neoliberal orientation that each increase in minimum wage was partly financed by Serbian taxpayers. The employers were never ready to consent to an increase if they were not given some discount. Two years ago they agreed only on condition that the untaxed part of the wage be increased from 11.700 to 15.000 dinars (from 99 to 127 euros). Last year, in order to get their consent, the government accepted the repeal of their participation (0,75% of the gross salary) in the unemployment benefits. This year it had to accept a decrease of contributions to Pension Fund and a further increase (by 1000 dinars / 8.47 euros) of the untaxed part of the salary. It’s obvious that the “sacred Profit” is not to be seriously touched – it’s better to find the missing money by milking the entire society as much as possible.

Minimum Wage Increased but without Consensus

12. September 2019  •573•    Further

Serbian government unilaterally increased the minimum wage for the next year after social partners’ failure to agree. Instead of 155 dinars (1.3 euros), it will be 172 dinars (1.46 euros) per hour. It means that per month those doomed to receive it will get 30,000 instead of 27,000 dinars (254 instead of 228 euros). Minister of Finance, Mali, said it was the “biggest increase of minimum wage ever recorded in the history of Serbia”. During negotiations the unions demanded a 20% increase while the employers were ready to agree only to 5 to 6%.
After the publication of the decision, the CATUS President Orbovic said that unions didn’t give their consent to the amount fixed by the government. “Not long ago we agreed that in 2021 the minimum wage should equal the consumer’s basket, but with the increase decided by the government it is impossible”, he concluded. His colleague from Nezavisnost, Stojiljkovic, also commented on the “lack of a compromise” and a unilateral government’s “proposal”. They did not express their opinion about Minister of Labour, Djordjevic’s comment that the increase was so generous because the government wanted to see its effects spread to the rest of wages and pensions. In Serbia 350.000 workers get the minimum wage.
It’s symptomatic of the government’s neoliberal orientation that each increase in minimum wage was partly financed by Serbian taxpayers. The employers were never ready to consent to an increase if they were not given some discount. Two years ago they agreed only on condition that the untaxed part of the wage be increased from 11.700 to 15.000 dinars (from 99 to 127 euros). Last year, in order to get their consent, the government accepted the repeal of their participation (0,75% of the gross salary) in the unemployment benefits. This year it had to accept a decrease of contributions to Pension Fund and a further increase (by 1000 dinars / 8.47 euros) of the untaxed part of the salary. It’s obvious that the “sacred Profit” is not to be seriously touched – it’s better to find the missing money by milking the entire society as much as possible.

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

10. September 2019  •572•    Further

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

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

9. September 2019  •571•    Further

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

Serbian Pensioners: Our Spas
Are Not for Sale!

3. September 2019  •570•    Further

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

Serbia Facing Serious Labour Shortage

28. August 2019  •569•    Further

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

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

23. August 2019  •568•    Further

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

Advantages and Disadvantages
of Foreign Investment in Serbia

20. August 2019  •567•    Further

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

Agency Work:
New Law Despite Unions’ Resistance

16. August 2019  •566•    Further

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

IMF says 'Speed up the Reform of Salary System'

2. August 2019  •565•    Further

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

Immediate Compensation for Injuries at Work

26. July 2019  •564•    Further

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

ITUC Conference in Belgrade

16. July 2019  •563•    Further

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

More Information to Prevent Abuse of Posted Workers

3. July 2019  •562•    Further

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

Unions Left Session of Social and Economic Council

2. July 2019  •561•    Further

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

Republic Geodetic Authority:
A Single Mom Brutally Fired

24. June 2019  •560•    Further

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

Minimum Salary: Unions for 10% Increase

19. June 2019  •559•    Further

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

Jurists and Teachers on Scaffold Boards –
Construction Workers Abroad

10. June 2019  •558•    Further

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

New Law on Agency Work
without Dialogue with Unions

3. June 2019  •557•    Further

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

Orbovic Left Session
of Social and Economic Council

31. May 2019  •556•    Further

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

Local Social and Economic Councils in Crisis

26. May 2019  •555•    Further

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

FIAT Workers Upset by the News
on Prolongation of Paid Leave

24. May 2019  •554•    Further

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

CATUS Delegation Meets the IMF Mission

22. May 2019  •553•    Further

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

CATUS Delegation Meets the IMF Mission

16. May 2019  •552•    Further

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

Humiliation of Workers in Serbia
Seems to Have No End

10. May 2019  •551•    Further

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

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

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

Joint Trade Unions Rally on May 1

30. April 2019  •550•    Further

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

IMF Should Help Ending
Unjust Treatment of Pensioners

27. April 2019  •549•    Further

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

Kindergarten Employees Win 9% Increase

20. April 2019  •548•    Further

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

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

18. April 2019  •547•    Further

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

Kindergarten Teachers’ Rally on April 11

8. April 2019  •546•    Further

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

President Orbovic in “ZASTAVA Weapons”
Factory in Kragujevac

6. April 2019  •545•    Further

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

SEC for Abrogation of Law on Salaries in Public Sector

26. March 2019  •544•    Further

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

Postal Workers Demand Higher Salaries
and Part of the Profit

16. March 2019  •543•    Further

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

Decent Work Programme Signed

8. March 2019  •542•    Further

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

Fatigue Causing Deadly Accidents at Work

4. March 2019  •541•    Further

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

Mass Exodus of Serbian Workers

28. February 2019  •540•    Further

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

CATUS Initiative on Penalty Points Abrogation

26. February 2019  •539•    Further

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

Year 2019 to Be Year of
Health and Safety at Work

19. February 2019  •538•    Further

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

Water and City Transport to Remain Public Goods

18. February 2019  •537•    Further

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

Growth of Uncertainty and Anxiety in FCA

11. February 2019  •536•    Further

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

Agency Workers Still Unprotected

27. January 2019  •535•    Further

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

Scandal in LEONI: Workers Persuaded to
Accept Illegal Working Conditions

25. January 2019  •534•    Further

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

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

Unions against Private-Public
Deals in Public Utilities

22. January 2019  •533•    Further

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

Urgent Action Needed to Stop Brain Drain!

18. January 2019  •532•    Further

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

Warning Strike in Judicial System

16. January 2019  •531•    Further

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

First Court Ruling in Pensioners-Government Dispute

10. January 2019  •530•    Further

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