Building and Wood Workers International: The Serbian government shouldn’t allow investors to behave like this

Representatives of the Building and Wood Workers International believe that the Government of Serbia should do much more to protect the human and workers' rights of foreign workers in Serbia.

Reports from the media and civil society organizations on the difficulties experienced by foreign workers engaged in the construction of the Linglong factory in Zrenjanin attracted public attention. News about the extremely poor accommodation conditions and indications of violations of human and workers’ rights of about 500 Vietnamese workers are slowly reaching international organizations, too.

Jasmin Redžepović, one of the secretaries of the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), which represents about 12 million workers in 127 countries, underlined the responsibility of Serbian authorities for the difficult situation the workers from Vietnam found themselves in.

“The Serbian government shouldn’t allow investors to behave like this. The situation we are witnessing is a result of the state’s reluctance to punish unscrupulous employers. As far as we know, workers from India and Turkey already experienced similar problems in Serbia. Such situations suggest to the other employers that they can treat their workers badly”, Redzepovic stated for Mašina. 

Redžepović explained that, apart from the seldom labour inspection visits conducted in a symbolic manner, we never see state officials come out and say that such treatment of workers is inadmissible.

Redžepović used this occasion to remind the public about the case of workers from India, hired through the construction company “Nikolić” from Kraljevo, which Mašina wrote about. BWI was engaged as a mediator in solving the problems of those workers. Redžepović said that the owner of the Kraljevo company has still not paid the back pay to the workers, although he agreed he would. 

“Back then, the “Nikolić” company paid the workers only for their plane tickets to New Delhi, although they had to travel by train to their homes for another 30 hours, which was not paid for. Such things remain unpunished and that is why they are repeated”, says Redžepović for Mashina.

In line with that, Redžepović believes that international, local and Vietnamese trade unions and similar social actors should direct their pressure primarily on the Government of Serbia, which should be reminded that “everyone should enjoy the same rights.”

He also finds the state’s reluctance to get involved in solving such issues to be problematic; everything is left to the civil sector and organizations like ASTRA, which was also involved in helping workers from India, instead.

Redžepović says that in such situations, it is necessary to seek the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), since Serbia is a signatory to the conventions of this organization, but doesn’t respect them. He adds that there are several conventions that Serbia has not ratified that would help protect the rights of foreign workers.

BWI is facing such practices throughout the region, and will write an official letter together with its members from Serbia, urging the government to end its policy of not punishing such practices.

M.M.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Nov 18, 2021.

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