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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Serbia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Serbia, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cacbc.html [accessed 22 September 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: 9,900,000
Capital: Belgrade
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade unionists were harassed and manipulated by employers, with two women falling victim to very disrespectful physical attacks. A number of restrictions on the right to organise and the right to strike persist.

Trade union rights in law

Authorisation required: All workers except military and police officers have the right to join and form a trade union. Trade unions must be registered in accordance with regulations issued by the Ministry of Labour. The procedure is very complicated, and is handled by the Ministry itself. The Ministry not only receives documentation, but it also must give its consent, which is contrary to the principles of freedom of association. Leaders of the company-level trade unions must be full-time employees at the time of registration and provide a certificate issued by their employer.

Collective bargaining and the right to organise: The right to bargain collectively is provided by law and exercised in practice. All workers with the exception of those in the army and the police can bargain collectively, however, the law stipulates a maximum duration of three years for collective agreements covering the public administration. A company-level trade union needs to comprise 15 per cent of the workforce in order to be recognised as a representative bargaining agent.

The Labour Law of 2005 prohibits discrimination on the basis of trade union membership. However, the law does not expressly prohibit obstructing trade union activities and establishes no specific sanctions for anti-union harassment.

Right to strike strongly limited: The right to strike is recognised, although it is restricted for employees in "essential services", who must give at least 15 days' advance warning of strike action and must provide a minimum service. The notion of essential services is very broad and in practice covers 50 per cent of all workers, including teachers and postal workers. The procedures for defining minimum services in the essential services are set out in government regulations and in practice may lead to a total ban on strike action, as happened in the case of JAT Airways in 2005, when all international traffic and 30 per cent of domestic traffic had to be guaranteed.

On 27 July 2007, the Government adopted an emergency decree that entered into force on 28 July banning strikes for police officers. While such restriction would be compatible with the ILO standards, the way the ban was established (by an emergency decree instead of a law, with immediate effect and in the middle of on-going police strike) was pushing the limits of what is acceptable in terms of the rule of law.

Strike action cannot be undertaken if parties to a collective agreement do not reach an agreement. The dispute is then subject to compulsory arbitration. Furthermore, the law on strikes states that participation in a strike can lead to suspension, not only of wages, but also of social security rights – which should be independent of the right to strike.

The law on Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes provides for compulsory arbitration in services of general interest, such as electricity distribution, water supply, public radio and television, postal and telecommunication services, public utilities, basic food production, health and veterinary protection, education, childcare and social protection.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: Under pressure to address the impact of the crisis, the government threatened to suspend the General Collective Agreement, which had been signed by CATUS and Nezavisnost with the employers' association in April 2008. After a series of protest actions the government agreed to engage in social dialogue, which led to a six-month postponement of the financial clauses in the agreement.

Organising discouraged: Workers who wish to form a trade union are often forced to take an employer's "advice" not to unionise, or else face persecution. The ITUC-affiliated Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions (CATUS) reports anti-union tactics such as abusive transfers, dismissals and demotions of trade unionists.

Termovent – woman trade union leader slapped and then forced to resign: In 2007, the Termovent company owed huge debts, including a total of 113 unpaid salaries. The trade union confederation Nezavisnost (affiliated to the ITUC) and its metalworkers' branch managed to convince the Ministry of the Economy and Development to adopt a special programme for mitigating the impact of collective redundancies. This programme allocated special funds that the company had to transfer to workers' accounts by 11 February.

From the moment the ministry's documents were signed, the company's trade union leader Lela Milicev was threatened that she would not be given the funds unless she resigned. She was even assaulted in public and hospitalised. Even though Milicev reluctantly signed a resignation letter, she did not receive her funds. The police opened an investigation.

Eco Fisher – another activist assaulted: At the Eco Fisher factory (town of Smerdevska Palanka) over ten trade union members were locked in the meeting room after the management tried to disrupt a trade union meeting. Slavica Knezevic, of Nezavisnost's Public Services Trade Union, was physically assaulted. A surveillance camera was later installed to monitor every step taken by the union president and vice-president. The management went on to prohibit all trade union activities.

The joint owners' behaviour is symptomatic of an increasing incidence of mobbing and harassment in workplaces, particularly affecting women workers.

Eurofoil – workers forced to relinquish trade union membership but are dismissed nonetheless: On 12 December, at the polyester foil factory owned by the Eurofoil company, several Nezavisnost members were individually given a pre-typed letter of "irrevocable withdrawal" from Nezavisnost by the CEO. Each one was told that his/her fellow unionists had already signed such forms, and that leaving Nezavisnost was a pre-requisite for keeping their jobs. Another worker was similarly pressured into leaving Nezavisnost by his shift foreman. On 26 December, the workers were made redundant.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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