Population: 3,800,000
Capital: Sarajevo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The government continued to refuse to register the national trade union confederation, the SSSBiH, for clearly unjustifiable reasons. There were at least 51 dismissals for trade union activities in 2006. The president of the national confederation and his family received physical threats.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association is included in the constitution and the labour law of both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS). All workers, including migrant workers, are free to join trade unions, with the exception of the military.

In the Federation and the Republika discrimination against trade union members and leaders is prohibited. Financial penalties are foreseen for anti-union discrimination against individuals, but there are no legal sanctions against employers who obstruct union organising.

Previous authorisation: The time limits prescribed in the legislation for the registration of trade unions are very short and, in the view of the ILO, equivalent to a system of prior authorisation. Exceeding such limitations may lead to disproportionate penalties, such as the dissolution of the organisation in question or cancellation of its registration. The law also regulates trade unions' internal procedures in great detail, restricting their freedoms.

The Minister of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina has the right to accept or reject trade union registration at the State level, and if no decision is made in 30 days, the registration is considered to be denied tacitly. The 30 day deadline is rarely respected in practice. In Republika Srpska trade unions have to pay court costs in order to be registered.

Restrictions on choosing trade union representatives: Company-level trade unions of the Republika Srpska must be entered into the Registry of the Ministry of Labour, War Veteran and Disability Protection. The Registry's Rulebook of this registry stipulates that the authorised trade union representative must provide a certificate of his or her full-time open-ended employment at the company. Employees on fixed-term contracts or part-timers cannot therefore be elected as trade union representatives. In the meantime, should the employer fail to produce the certificate, there are neither sanctions nor alternative means to prove one's employment.

Strikes limited: The right to strike is recognised, and strikers are protected from retaliation.

There are some limitations on the right to strike. In the Federation, a strike must be notified to the employer in writing, no later than ten days before the beginning of the strike. The written notification must list the reasons for the strike, the locality, and the date and time at which the strike is to take place. The law requires that "production maintenance" be ensured during a strike. How this is to be done must be worked out in advance with the employer and announced no later than ten days before the strike is due to start. If no agreement is reached and the union still launches a strike, then a strike will be declared unlawful by the court, trade unions can be fined up to 2,500 KM (EUR 1250), and workers may be punished. As a result, quite a few strikes have been declared unlawful simply because the employer avoided reaching the "production maintenance" agreement. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of BiH is campaigning to change this law.

In the Republika Srpska, a minimum service must be provided by enterprises categorised as public services, the list of which is excessively long, for example, state radio and television and production of basic foodstuff. Workers in these enterprises must give at least eight days' notice before striking.

Collective bargaining: The right to collective bargaining is recognised in the Federation and the Republika. In 2006 the Labour Code of the Brcko District of BiH was amended, fully granting collective bargaining rights for the workers in the District.

Trade union rights in practice

Continued discrimination: Discrimination against union members and leaders still occurs and no sanctions against obstructing trade union activities have been imposed, despite the legal provisions. Under the current privatisation process, trade unionists throughout BiH have been just as vulnerable to dismissal as other workers. In some private companies, employees are warned they will be dismissed if they join a trade union.

Republika Srpska – situation gets worse: The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Republika Srpska reports that more and more violations of trade union rights take place, particularly in the private sector, and the employers would use any pretext to ban a trade union organisation. The Confederation decided to declare the year 2007 a year for trade union rights, aiming at better protection. There have been a few cases where trade unions managed to defend their activists against discrimination effectively using judicial and administrative remedies, but stronger protection is still needed.

Violations in 2006

Background: National elections took place in October 2006 for a government that would be the first to run the country without international supervision since the end of the 1992-1995 war. Negotiations on the formation of a coalition government were ongoing at year end. The country faces a challenge of high unemployment, a large grey economy and a backlogged court system, which has a negative impact on trade union rights.

SSSBiH still denied registration: The government has consistently denied registration at the BiH level to national confederations. The failure to register the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bonsia and Herzegovina, SSSBiH, on clearly unjustifiable grounds have created a spill-over effect: neither its branch unions nor the umbrella organisation for the national and entity level trade unions, KSBiH, could register.

The SSSBiH registration problems started back in 2002, and the ILO supervisory bodies have been urging the government to register it as soon as possible since 2003. On 9 January the Ministry of Justice once again refused to register the SSSBiH, this time under the pretext that the organisation had not been registered prior to the adoption of the Law on Associations and Foundations of BiH (2001), although the amendments to the SSSBiH Constitution were legally registered in 1996. The situation remains unresolved at the time of writing, despite of the intervention of the ILO and the European Commission delegation in BiH. The SSSBiH appealed against the Ministry of Justice decision on 16 March; however, their appeal has not been reviewed at the time of writing. The government expressed their willingness to co-operate with the ILO during the 2006 session of the International Labour Conference, however, practical steps to fulfil this promise have yet to be made.

Under the Law on Associations and Foundations, an association that has not been registered within the 30 day limit can be dissolved. The SSSBiH believes that the failure to register it is for political reasons, and is an attempt to weaken the largest and strongest national trade union centre in the country. For as long as the SSSBiH is not registered, it is not able to engage in collective bargaining at the national level.

SSSBiH president threatened: In spring the President of SSSBiH, Edhem Biber, and his family, received physical threats in connection with Mr. Biber's trade union activities. Mr. Biber, a vocal advocate of the "revision of privatisation" to protect workers rights, had already been attacked in 2003. As the threats resumed, the ITUC and the European Trade Union Confederation sent an official protest to the BiH Prime Minister Mr. Adnan Terzic on 3 April.

24 strike participants sacked: On 1 April a strike was launched at the "Agrokomerc" company in Velika Kladusa (Federation of BiH) as a protest against unpaid salaries and social contributions. Although no court declared the strike illegal, on 6 July 24 trade union members were summarily dismissed for "taking part in an illegal strike, causing financial damage to the employer and failure to perform their working obligations". A trade union leader was given a dismissal notice at the company gate, right after her unpaid leave has elapsed, in spite of the fact that the Ministry of Labour did not sanction her dismissal. Since her social security contributions had not yet been paid, she was not entitled to medical aid. The SSSBiH sued the company on 7 November in the name of the dismissed workers, but the trial has not started at the time of writing.

18 trade unionists dismissed: In November 2006 the management of AD "GRADENJE" in Uglevik (Republika Srpska) dismissed 18 workers who had demanded that the company paid outstanding salaries and social contributions; these workers also participated in a strike. Trade unions asked the labour inspectorate to intervene. The matter had not been resolved at the time of writing.

Fired for organising: On 2 February a trade union organisation was formed in the "Standard Turbe" company in Turbe (Federation of BiH) as an affiliate to the Independent Trade Union of Forestry and Wood Processing in BiH. The employer then dismissed the trade union representative Mr. Ganic Vernes together with seven members of the new trade union presidency. The employer did not ask for the approval of the Federal Ministry of Labour, which is required for the dismissal of a trade union official. The dispute settlement procedure was still pending at the time of writing. The trade union intended to file a lawsuit if the employer failed to give the trade unionists their jobs back.

Problems in the city of Zwornik: In February 2006 the management of AD "Inzinjering" in Zwornik (Republika Srpska) deducted trade union dues from members' salaries, but failed to transfer the money to the union's account. Both the primary level and the municipal level trade union issued a written warning to the employer, but with no result by year end. In another company, DOO "Aleksandrija", the management banned transfer of the membership fees, and a trade union member was transferred to a different post.

The 2006 Survey reported a case of trade union busting at the Birac factory in the same city. The employer's campaign included threats, intimidation, manipulating trade union finances and establishing a "yellow" trade union. Trade union chairman, Mr. Dragan Savic, was dismissed and appealed his dismissal in court in December 2005, although the trial did not begin until 12 December 2006. The case has been adjourned several times due to the number of witnesses, and no solution was available at the time of writing.

This 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.