The construction workers from India who started a strike in the middle of the previous week, demanding their overdue wages and to be allowed to return home, will be able to travel back starting this week, Mašina found out. This is not the first time that workers from India are dissatisfied with working conditions in Serbia, and the whole case raised questions regarding the necessity of international cooperation, which we discussed with representatives of the trade unions from Serbia and India.
Arun Kumar, a member of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), stated for Mašina that the recent happenings in Serbia belong to a well-established practice of exploiting migrant workers from India.
The same company has already tricked builders from India for wages. In February, 15 workers who have been engaged at this company were sent home to Tamil Nadu, a southern state in India, without having their wages paid, Kumar commented.
Last Wednesday, about 40 construction workers from India who have been engaged in Serbia through “Nikolić” company started a strike by protesting in front of the seat of the city administration in Kraljevo. The workers complained that they had not been paid several salaries and that they were hungry and unable to return to their families in India.
It is also telling that only a few days after the beginning of the protest of the construction workers from India, the “Nikolić” construction company was taken over by the company “Marera Property Management”.
As we found out, this time the Embassy of India will help the workers who want to return home. Trade unions and civil society organizations addressed the Embassy, which will organize several rounds of transportation in upcoming weeks. The aforementioned acquisition will help them receive a part of what the company owns them.
The “Nikolić” civic construction company is already notorious for exploiting builders from India, which the media wrote about at the beginning of the year.
International cooperation needs strengthening
As Arun Kumar explains, early this year, a group of organizations helped Indian builders working in Serbia: Tamil Maanila Kattida Thozhilalar Sangam (Tamil Nadu State Construction Workers’ Union, TMKTS), a construction union from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), a member of this Federation in Serbia – Independent Trade Union of Road Workers, as well as the organization ASTRA.
The Independent Trade Union of Road Workers of Serbia (SSPS) believes that “connecting trade unions and workers’ organizations is of great importance.”
The benefits, so to speak, are manifold, from education to contacts with trade unions from all over the world. Of course, that is true if you are a sincere fighter for human rights, i.e. a trade unionist, and if you are ready to apply everything you consider beneficial for trade union membership in fieldwork, the SSPS announced.
As the representatives of the union told us, when the problem with the workers from India first became known, they immediately contacted the international federation to which they belong, which then got in touch with the trade union from India so that they could put pressure on the Indian Embassy in Belgrade through their politicians.
We are like one big family that is always ready to come to the rescue when needed, they say in the SSPS.
Arun Kumar believes that the union headquarters still have a long way to go in terms of strengthening international cooperation.
Although most left-wing unions belong to the World Federation of Trade Unions, the level of international cooperation and action is limited. However, unions are attempting to strengthen these ties. In this regard, international unions such as BWI (International Federation of Trade Unions of Construction and Wood Industry), ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), PSI (International Federation of Public Service Unions) and IndustriAll (International Trade Union Federation) have made great steps forward, most notably at the level of campaign, says Kumar.
Kumar uses the example of Indian workers who faced problems in Serbia to illustrate that trade union headquarters from different countries have problems in efficiently bringing to life international cooperation. The activities aimed at helping these people were mediated through specific unions with local field presence both in Serbia and India, and not through the national headquarters where these unions are located.
Members of the Independent Trade Union of Road Workers of Serbia believe that local trade unions “must contact trade unions from the countries where the companies come from”, especially in cases when the owners of the said companies.
Representatives of the SSPS conclude that the connection between trade unions and workers’ organizations is very important at all levels, and that this, unfortunately, is not always the case in our surroundings.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was originally published in Serbian on Aug 24, 2020.