Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 06:26 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Serbia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Serbia, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd889282.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 9,856,000
Capital: Belgrade

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 2
Dismissals: 40

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Reprisals against trade unionist activists, or any workers who decide to join the union, are frequent, and include demotion, suspension and dismissal. While many registered trade unions have problems in winning recognition as a representative organisation, employers sometimes engage in negotiations with unregistered unions. At least 40 trade union members were dismissed because of their trade union activities or for participating in a strike.

Background

A wave of strikes and protests by public sector workers, including teachers, police and health workers, calling for a pay rises, spread throughout the country in February and March 2011. Following the arrests of Ratko Mladić in May, and Goran Hadžić in July, the two last remaining fugitive war crimes suspects sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), normalisation of relations with Kosovo remained the last obstacle in long awaited further progress in the EU accession process. EU-facilitated talks between Serbia and Kosovo began in Brussels in March 2011. Although progress was slowed by repeated outbreaks of ethnic violence in Northern Kosovo from July onwards, by the end of the year talks resulted in five deals on technical issues such as trade and freedom of movement. In October, the European Commission recommended Serbia for EU candidate status, but the European Council summit in December decided to postpone the decision until March 2012, expecting further progress in relations with Kosovo by then. However, the level of support for the EU membership steadily decreased throughout 2011, reaching an all time low of 47% in October, partly as a result of worsening economic conditions both in Serbia and Europe and people's preoccupation with bread and butter issues.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are limited despite some constitutional guarantees. The procedures for registering a union are very complicated, and authorisation is required from the Ministry of Labour. To be recognised as a collective bargaining agent, a union needs to comprise 15% of the workforce. In addition, section 233 of the Labour Law imposes a time period of three years before a new organisation, or a union which has failed to obtain recognition, may seek a decision on representativeness.

Furthermore, the right to strike is heavily restricted, as parties to a collective agreement must submit their disputes to compulsory arbitration, which is also the case for disputes in services of general interest. A minimum service must be provided in strikes in "essential services", the notion of which is very broad. The procedures for determining the minimum service are set out in government regulations and can even lead to a total ban on strike action. Finally, the law provides for the suspension not only of wages, but also of social security rights of striking workers.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Organising and trade union action discouraged: Workers who wish to form a trade union are often "advised" by the employer not to do so or threatened with possible reprisals. Company level trade union leaders are often threatened with dismissal for organising industrial actions or publicly speaking about working conditions in their workplace. Court protection from such illegal actions on behalf of the employer is inefficient due to the slowness of the judiciary system, and labour inspectorates do not always make an effort to stop anti-union behaviour.

Limited social dialogue: Social dialogue, both tripartite and bipartite remains limited, due to problems, amongst others, with the representativeness of the social partners. Several registered trade unions, including four trade union confederations, are not recognised as social partners. Tripartite social dialogue at the national level has a limited impact on the economy, as the consultations between social partners do not take place regularly. At lower levels, tripartite social dialogue is non-existent in most municipalities, as it remains impossible to establish local economic and social councils, mainly due to the lack of representative social partners, particularly on the employers' side. The effects of bipartite dialogue are also limited, as it is not infrequent that individual companies do not respect branch collective agreements, and individual employers sponsor yellow unions.

Violations

Trade union leaders dismissed: Six trade union leaders were dismissed in February 2011 by the electrical equipment company Zastava Elektro, in Rača, which since 2010 has been a subsidiary of South Korean multinational Yura, The six included the company union President Nela Obradović, Vice-President Marijana Ilić and Secretary Vera Petrović. The other three dismissed were members of the company trade union committee. Obradović and Ilić were dismissed on the pretext that they did not prevent the leadership of the United Trade Union Sloga, to which the company union is affiliated, from speaking in public about the problems in the company, which damaged its reputation. The company union had only just been founded, in January, and the Korean management was repeatedly accused by Sloga of anti-union pressure, including threatening to dismiss the workers who join the union, as well as of numerous violations of workers' rights and mobbing. The President of Sloga Željko Veselinović stated that after the dismissal of the six unionists the trade union in the company, which organised 120 out of 1,000 workers, effectively ceased to exist, as remaining members of the trade union committee gave up union work due to pressure from the employer. The Labour Inspectorate ordered that only two of the dismissed unionists, not including Obradović and Ilić, were to be returned to work. All six of them have filed charges.

Attempt at strike breaking: During a strike at the food processing company Banat, in Banatski Karlovac, in protest at one year of unpaid wages and three years of unpaid social contributions, which took place from 28 March to 4 May 2011, the employer suspended 77 out of 105 workers who were on strike. Thirty of them subsequently received telegrams inviting them to return to work. After they did not respond, they received warnings before dismissal. Moreover, during the strike the employer hired security guards who tried to prevent the workers to from going on strike inside the company. After the Labour Inspectorate confirmed the strike was lawful, workers were allowed to continue the strike inside the company premises.

Trade union committee dismissed: Prompted by continuous violations of workers' rights, including late payment of wages and non-payment of overtime, 35 out of 170 workers in the furniture production company TRA Duga, in Sombor, founded the Autonomous Trade Union TRA Duga on 4 February 2011. After the company director and owner Mirko Rakonjac was informed of the trade union's establishment, he asked the union President Aleksandar Pelagić to resign from the company. Pelagić refused, and as a result he was immediately suspended from work. On 12 February, Rakonjac presented the union leadership with a reorganisation of posts within the company, dated 1 February. The new organigram did not include the posts of 12 union leaders and members, with the aim of retroactively dismissing them as redundant before the date the union was established. On 5 May, Pelagić and the other six members of the trade union committee (Dragan Trifunović, Miljan Malović, Željko Tomčić, Goran Grudić, Nikola Jovičić and Kristijan Varga) were dismissed, as well as a further five union members. Only four of them subsequently received severance pay. Rakonjac claimed that the trade union did not exist. Dismissed unionists informed the Labour Inspectorate, which was however prevented by the employer from properly conducting an inspection of the company.

Dismissed while on strike: After a strike in the printing house Dnevnik in Novi Sad started in July 2011 to protest at more than one year of unpaid wages and social contributions, 27 workers were dismissed on the grounds that the strike was unlawful. The Labour Inspectorate subsequently decided that the dismissals were unlawful and workers were returned to work, where they continued with the strike. During the strike, unpaid wages for 2010 were paid, but only to workers who did not join the strike.

Work stoppage blocked by the police: Workers employed by the Nibens group from Belgrade, the largest Serbian road construction company in charge of building and maintaining numerous roads and highways in the country, organised a number of work stoppages throughout 2011 due to unpaid wages. During the work stoppage in August, police blocked the entrance to five companies operating within the Nibens group (Vojvodinaput-Bačkaput, PZP Beograd, PZP Kragujevac, PZP Niš and PZP Vranje), preventing the workers from blocking road works on various sites in which the company was operating. In an open letter sent to the Minister of the Interior Ivica Dačić on 12 August, the President of the Autonomous Trade Union of Road Maintenance Workers of Serbia (SSPS) Sonja Vukanović called for an immediate end to the repressive measures against the workers of the Nibens group, stating that the police has been preventing the freedom of movement of workers, interrogating trade union representatives, and exercising physical coercion on the workers. The SPSS condemned the government's decision to limit the freedom of movement for workers of the Nibens group, and has also addressed the ILO and other international institutions on the issue.

Collective agreement signed with unregistered trade union: At the newspaper Večernje novosti, in Belgrade, management refused to negotiate with the registered trade union, affiliated to the Journalists' Union of Serbia (SINOS), and instead on 7 August 2011 concluded a collective agreement with the United Trade Union (JS), which was not registered at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The new agreement was less favourable for the workers, including in the case of collective redundancies. Dragana Čabarkapa, President of both SINOS and its Večerenje novosti branch, stated that company director Manojlo Vukotić for years discriminated against SINOS members and provided financial support for the JS. On 30 November, Čabarkapa put a letter from the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (CATUS) on the company bulletin board, stating that CATUS-affiliated Autonomous Union of Printing, Editing, Information and Film Industry Workers of Serbia decided on 10 January to dissolve the JS, due to the fact that the union was never properly registered, nor has ever held elections. Following her action, Vukotić threatened and offended Čabarkapa, who ended the day in the emergency department because of high blood pressure. Next day Čabarkapa was fined for not finishing her work the day before. Vukotrić's action was condemned by the Association of Journalists of Serbia, Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and the European Journalists Federation.

Anti-strike pressure in the police:

The police commander exerted pressure on union members to discontinue their strike action on two separate occasions. In February and December 2011, the Independent Trade Union of Police (NPSS) organised strikes in protest at unsatisfactory wages and working conditions. Both strikes were organised lawfully, respecting the minimum service requirements.

According to NPSS President Velimir Barbulov, during the strike which started on 2 February, the heads of certain police administrations were instructed to press union members to stop their strike, and were threatened with demotion if they failed to do so. The strike was called off on 15 February after agreement with the Ministry of Interior which was followed by the signing of a collective agreement for the police forces on 28 February.

During the strike that started on 12 December in protest at violations of the collective agreement, police officer Nenad Bošković from the police station in Babušnica, suffered daily insults and harassment from his commanding officers, including the Head of Police Administration Pirot Goran Krstić, who on 17 December attempted to physically attack Bošković. Following Bošković's request for legal protection, the NPSS applied for disciplinary procedures against Krstić, and filed charges with the Minor Offences Court in Pirot, and instigated criminal proceedings against him with the Basic Public Prosecutor Office in Pirot.

Dismissed trade unionists still not returned to work: In 2010 a court ruled in favour of Zlatko Francuski and six other trade union committee members at Gorenje Tiki, in Stara Pazova, who were dismissed in August 2009 due to their trade union activities and ordered that they be reinstated. Zlatko Francuski was reinstated in 2010, but then faced demotion, suspension and eventually transfer to another company without his consent. He continues the court proceeding against Gorenje Tiki. In the case of the six other trade unionists, the employer refused to comply with the court orders. Although the Gorenje Tiki trade union filed a request for determining its representativeness in September 2009, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had not made a decision by the end of 2011.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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