Serbia: World Day for Decent Work celebrated with no optimism

"There has long been no dignified work or dignified life for the largest number of workers in Serbia."

Most people in Serbia who work for a living can only mark the World Day for Decent Work with heavy sighs, since work is so seldom decent here. Truth be told, Serbian workers are not alone in their plight, as evidenced by the International Labor Organization’s estimations that there is a danger that demographic inequalities and poverty will continue to rise after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the world will be short of decent jobs.

In a press release issued on the occasion of the Day for Decent Work, the Center for Democracy Foundation (FCD) stated that Serbia is among the European countries with “the highest rate of unmet job needs”, as well as that last year the number of unemployed and underemployed people was 620,100.

“Salaries of most employees don’t cover the costs of a dignified life of employees and their families: Over 683,000 employees earn less than the minimum consumer basket, and over 1.6 million of them don’t make enough money to afford the average consumer basket. The right to financial compensation is not exercised by 93% of the unemployed who are registered with the employment service, and for those few who receive it, it is not enough to cross the poverty line”, stated FCD.

“For a long time there has been no dignified work or dignified life for the largest number of workers in Serbia: only poverty, apathy, humiliation and fear that it could get worse. Workers have become mere consumer goods in this times of transition, which lasts and lasts and never ends”, Milica Lupšor from the Association for Women’s Labor Rights – Roza told Mašina.

Mikhail Arandarenko, a professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Belgrade, believes that “Serbia lacks the conditions for decent work to be available to everyone”. However, Arandarenko says that the most important thing in order for decent work to become more widely available would be for social and economic policies to change so that employment rises:

“Employment growth is a necessary prerequisite, and a sufficient condition would be a qualitative increase in the impact of labour, including trade unions, and a quantitative increase in the share of labor. In other words, it is necessary for the work to be functionally more present in relation to other actors, meaning the state and the capital”, Arandarenko concluded. 

Mihail Arandarenko; Photo: personal archive

Milica Lupšor also stated that the described situation is not new, but that workers’ rights in Serbia have been under assault for more than thirty years thanks to the deteriorating legislative.

“Of course, workers are under constant pressure of employers, who are allowed to exploit and diminish labour rights thanks to the bad legislation and new laws that fragment it further. And even such bad laws are disrespected on a daily basis. There are almost no employers, both in the private and in the public sector, who respect the 40 hours working week. Instead, it is quite normal to make people work 48 hours or more. Workers often don’t get paid for overtime; most of them are engaged on temporary contracts and work for low wages that don’t even cover their basic needs; many are not entitled to annual or sick leave. In many factories, working conditions are inhumane, there is no ventilation in summer, no heating in winter, and people aren’t even allowed to go to the toilet “, Lupšor explained.

She added that insecurity is omnipresent, since a large number of people have short-term temporary contracts, which renders them unable to plan their future.

“Discrimination against women, especially young women, is a daily occurrence. ” The top of the state goes on and on about the need to increase the birth rate, but doesn’t mention the need to protect young mothers from losing their jobs”, Lupšor concluded.

On the occasion of the Day for Decent Work, the United Branch Trade Unions “Independence” organized a panel discussion called “Is an alternative economic and social policy possible?”. The panellists were the trade union’s president Zoran Stojiljković, economy professor Mihail Arandarenko and Natasa Vučković, executive director of FCD.

Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (SSSS) organized an action in Kikinda yesterday, in which they informed the citizens about the the trade union’s activities and principles of dignified work.

All elements of dignified work belong to the spectrum of basic human rights, but “in Serbia, paradoxically, they are disrespected in most cases”, stated SSSS in a press release.

“There is no dignified work if a worker is unemployed and in poverty against their will, if their labour rights are abused, if he or she is discriminated against on any grounds, if employees cannot unionize to make their voices be heard or if there are obstacles to effective dialogue between organized workers”, the SSSS press release states.

M.M.

Translation: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Oct 7, 2021.

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