Serbia accused of “legalizing exploitation” under seasonal work law
Workers left without a strong safety net
The law, first adopted in 2018, was presented to the government by NALED, which unites dozens of companies in Serbia.
It has been criticized previously for the non-contractual hiring of seasonal workers – which was justified by the explanation that it will help fight against tax collection and make the whole procedure easier for employers, and therefore also for seasonal workers.
But lawyers say the inclusion of a so-called “verbal agreement” for labor rights means these workers are legally deprived of any protection under existing labor law.
The new amendments now require the employer to inform workers of their working and hiring conditions in writing, but it is still unclear why there is no obligation to sign a formal contract. , said Reljanovic.
âThis way there will be much less control over what they have agreed upon and workers will not be allowed to complain. Also, they [employers] can accept more [pay], but then report to the state that they have accepted less, âhe explained.
Reljanovic added that with the lower salary that foreigners in some countries are willing to accept, employers will also benefit since they will not pay all health insurance taxes, but only work-related taxes.
The booming construction sector in Serbia is increasingly demanding workers from abroad, not least because skilled Serbian construction workers are leaving the country dissatisfied with conditions and with an average salary of 450 euros per month.
In 2019, 13,802 foreign workers were legally registered in the country. Last year the figure dipped slightly to 12,897, but that was the year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the workers come from China, Turkey, Russia and countries in the region, but more and more come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
With the new bill, construction workers hired under the legislation won’t be able to work on the more difficult aspects of construction projects – but unions say it’s just a way around controls additional.
âI am well aware of the violations in this area. Employers will not respect this [provision], and the workers will be sent to do whatever is necessary, âsaid union president Torlakovic.
He said the government is known to adapt legislation to meet the needs of businesses, saying NALED is their preferred partner.
âWhen NALED wants something, he gets it. They are the cavalry of foreign investors and want to cut spending and paperwork, âhe said.
NALED has been part of 40 different government task forces on legislative changes, most of them aimed at boosting the investment environment.
Several social rights activists, who wished to remain anonymous, told BIRN that the bill also did not comply with the Serbian constitution, as it did not comply with at least six social rights conventions that Serbia signed. They said that if the bill is passed, they will submit complaints to the Constitutional Court.