Protests announced over dismissal of Radio-Television of Vojvodina employees

“Support RTV” protest, 2016 in Novi Sad; photo: Nemanja Lauš / Support RTV / Facebook

The Radio-Television of Vojvodina’s (RTV) branch union, belonging to the United Branch Trade Union Independence, organised a press conference on Monday, on the occasion of the announced dismissal of their 250 colleagues, who have been engaged through an employment agency.

Over 20% of the workers of the public Broadcasting Institution of Vojvodina will lose their jobs in a week. A part of the staff has already been fired in July, and now the same fate awaits more employees – mostly journalists, but also production workers who have been hired through an employment agency.

Representatives of the trade union claim that the authorities’ attitude towards the province’s public service hasn’t changed even after they had sent an open letter to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, Ana Brnabić. “There are no indications that the state will give us back the 1.6 million Euros the budget rebalance denied us of without a clear reason”, their announcement states. According to the representatives of the union, the cutting of funding lead to the announced dismissal of 200 RTV’s employees, who have been designing and producing media content daily.

The very fact that we find ourselves in a situation to ask for the said 1.6 million Euros from the Government of Serbia means that this media, this public service is actually run by the Government, stated Dragan Milanović Pilac, president of the Branch Trade Union for Culture, Arts and Media of the United Branch Trade Union Independence.

Darko Šper, Independence’s commissioner, stated that there are still no lists for dismissals, but that the employees are waiting for the lists “like in a death row”.

The media were informed on Monday that some workers had been notified that they had been sent on a forced annual leave during the pandemic. However, they were soon served notice on termination of engagement by the employment agency – meaning that they won’t receive compensation for the forced leave.

The Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina stated that the management should resign if they fail to solve this problem.

Precarious contracts – employers’ wild card

The Law on Agency Employment, which came into force in March this year, only nominally equates workers with employment contracts and those hired through employment agencies. In practice, workers hired through agencies don’t enjoy the same rights as workers with employment contracts, in part precisely because of the possibility of their easier dismissal, but also due to the fact that contracts on precarious employment don’t guarantee them a number of different labour rights. As Mario Reljanović from The Center for Decent Work pointed out at the time:

Being permanently employed through an agency is not the same as being permanently employed directly, according to the Labour Law. The two regimes aren’t equal because the agency, as an employer, has a right to use a special reason for dismissal. Namely, the agency may dismiss an employee as redundant at any time when he or she has not been transferred to an employer.

Since the Law on Agency Employment has been the adopted it has been used as basis for contracts on employment at the RTV.

“According to some of my calculations, those agencies have earned some 400.000-500.000€ since the first day they got a job with the Radio Television of Vojvodina”, Darko Šper, Independence’s commissioner, stated.

The Independence trade union used the press conference to warn that the Law on Agency Employment was passed precisely in order to make it easier for employers to do what is currently happening in RTV. They reminded the workers of the fact that many of them had their contracts on temporary engagement prolonged beyond the legal deadline of two years. Trade union representatives also stated that they plan to use all legal means to protect the labour rights of journalists and media workers who are about to be fired.

The media management remained silent, but the CEO of RTV, Miodrag Koprivica announced the dismissals in an interview for Cenzolovka, emphasizing that he hoped this to be a temporary solution, i.e. that the dismissals will last until the end of this year. The management didn’t hold a meeting with the union, which, on the other hand, announced protests during this week.

I.P.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

This article was originally published in Serbian on Aug 25, 2020.

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