Mario Reljanović: Citizens of Serbia will pay dearly for basic medical services, while everything else will be available only to those who can pay

Mario Reljanović; Photo: Ajdin Kamber

Export of medical health professionals is weakening the public health system in Serbia and is against the interest of its citizens, says Mario Reljanović, a research fellow of the Belgrade Institute of Comparative Law.

The “Triple Win” project is framed as benefiting all three sides. What does Serbia get out of it?

Serbia doesn’t really get anything, it would seem. Individuals who now have an easier path to employment in Germany are getting something, but the rest of us citizens don’t get anything. It is extremely indicative how easily Serbia lets go of its highly qualified and specialized workers, into whom a lot has been invested. Serbia gives up on them under the pretence of decreasing unemployment and so on, but there are no direct benefits for the state of Serbia and its citizens.

Does exporting unemployment make sense?

The unemployment rate, as it is depicted in the media, usually is not the real unemployment rate, so it could be said that Serbia has a pretty high unemployment rate. So, exporting it makes some sense. But, not when talking about professions where there is not enough workers, and from where I’m standing it looks that the entire legal ambiance created by the prohibition on employment in the public health sector and worsening of working condition for medical workers actually facilitates this “export the workforce” policy, and harms those who have need of medical services here in Serbia.

What are the consequences if this trend continues?

We can already witness the short-term consequences of the employment prohibition. We have very few doctors, especially certain specialists, there is a decrease in the number of nurses… Long-term, it would seem that the legal regulation of public-private partnerships in medical services, the Law on public administration employees, which regulates medical professionals, as well as the new Law on health services all pave the way for a partial privatization of the public health system. This means that the citizens of Serbia will pay dearly – since both those in the workforce and those who receive public pensions have a sizeable chunk of their income deducted for health insurance – for basic medical services, while everything else will be available only to those who can pay.

On the other hand, the agencies that help with employment in Germany are certainly winners here.

It is clear that this type of business is doing well currently. I had a chance to see those contracts, and there are two types: one which is obviously fraudulent, with hidden costs for the person leaving abroad and very bad working conditions – 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week and so on. Such conditions are not only against the law in Serbia, they are not and cannot be in accordance with German law.

The other type are contracts offered by slightly more professional agencies who have worked out a system of sending people to Germany. They usually do not contain any illegal provisions, but they do have complicated and potentially disputable clauses that limit the person to using only that one agency and so-called contractual penalties in case of reneging.

We had examples of people not knowing what they have signed, just saying it was in German. Is there an obligation towards them, to make sure that they know what they are signing?

A person fit for working is considered fit for signing whatever they wish to sign. In that sense, we cannot say that somebody was forced to sign anything against their own will. However, contracts that one side does not fully understand often hide fraudulent motives, that is, misleading one side that the terms of the contract are different than what is actually written and signed. That is a substantial risk. Of course, every legal advisor will tell you not to ever sign anything that you do not understand, and to ask for a translation. Even when the contract is written in Serbian, you should ask for legal advice, someone who can explain to you what the consequences of you signing the document are.

Is this then some sort of modern slavery?

If realistic terms are agreed upon in the contract with an agency or an employer, those people who leave for Germany or another country will get better pay and job security and a chance to work with dignity – providing they overcome procedural hurdles, which can be very difficult. For others, this means practically being trafficked. If you end up without your passport in a foreign country, where you have to work off a contract whose conditions you have not been made aware of, that could be characterized as human trafficking.

Translation from Serbian: Mihailo Tešić

This article was originally published in Serbian in Vreme magazine on Dec 11, 2019.

This research was enabled by “Reporters in the Field”, a program by Robert Bosch Stiftung hosted with the media network n-ost.

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