ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
A number of restrictions on the right to organise and the right to strike persist. The government's behaviour has been pushing the limits of the rule of law, and many employers remain hostile towards trade unions.
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 maximum term of three years for collective agreements in 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 who must ensure a minimum service. The notion of essential services is very broadly defined and in practice covers 50 per cent of 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 the government adopted an emergency decree that entered into force on 28 July banning strikes by police officers. While such a 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 an 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 2007
Background: The country spent the whole year in political turmoil, with the Kosovo situation reaching a stalemate. In February the first national elections since the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro had ceased to exist saw the ultra-nationalist Radical Party increasing its presence in the Parliament, just falling short of winning enough seats to form a government.
Organising discouraged: Workers who wish to form a trade union are often forced to take employer's "advice" not to unionise, or 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.
Police trade union under attack: On 24 July the Independent Police Trade Union (IPTU) went on strike, which was at that time permitted under Serbian legislation. The government quickly passed an emergency strike ban with immediate effect (see "Trade union rights in law" above). The union called off the strike at noon on 28 July, just twelve hours after the government's decree came into force. On 31 July, three IPTU leaders were demoted with a 30% salary cut, in violation of national laws. On 20 October the Ministry of Interior initiated disciplinary proceedings against the three IPTU leaders, and on 17 December Zoran Rasevic, Momcilo Vidojevic and Zoran Ilic were dismissed. Given the questionable procedure under which the government's decree was enacted and the trade union's prompt decision to call off the strike, such a punishment was clearly disproportionate.
Lack of social dialogue in the education sector: Education International reports that, despite the fact that a collective agreement is in place for Serbian education workers, the government has been refusing to negotiate salary conditions with teachers' unions.
Harassment at the electric power plant: Activists of the Trade Union of Public Utilities and Housing (affiliated to CATUS) in the Belgrade Electric Power Plant have been harassed throughout the year. Once the union became active in the enterprise, management attacked the 25-strong trade union committee. These activists, three of whom are women and one of whom is disabled, have been illegally suspended from work and transferred to other sections of the plant on conditions contrary to the collective agreement. The management has also been tampering with trade union meetings.
Union busting at "Narodne Novine" newspaper: Two journalists who were trying to stand for trade union rights and decent working conditions were demoted in April, five were fired on 28 May and more were facing the threat of being laid off. The once 39-strong "Narodne Novine" organisation of the Journalist Union of Serbia was cut down to only three members.
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