In Serbia there are more and more new investors, both foreign and domestic, who are chasing high profits while receiving large state subsidies and having very few obligations towards and even fewer to their workers, who have become a cheap workforce with almost no trade union representation.
In the last 10 years, perhaps even longer, there has not even been a ‘big’ trade union strike, but only sporadic ‘expressions of dissatisfaction’. Unions are not what they used to be and the number of unions fighting for workers’ rights has decreased; there are fewer independent trade unions and more and more state unions.
In recent days, trade unionists in Kragujevac have complained to the media about the formation of a branch of the Association of Trade Unions of Serbia in the same city, which is supported by the government and gathers members by promising them revision of their job terms and conditions, redundancies and dismissals.
“The state does form trade unions, especially in the public sector and state administration, where it is public knowledge that the Interior Minister has his own trade union. He may deny it, but we know in practice that these trade unions exist and are formed by pressuring people into joining them or granting privileges,” Ranka Savić, president of the Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions, tells Danas daily.
Most of the times, people are lured into joining such trade unions with the promises of better job contracts and work positions. “I know that a new union has been formed in the Pension and Disability Fund (PIO), where thousands of people have left the existing union and joined the new one, which was formed following the people from the SNS party being appointed to managerial positions,” Savić points out.
It is common, she notes, for the directors of some companies to form their own union. “Now, we have a problem with the public enterprise Bukulja, where the company’s director formed a union with one of our members, whom we saved from being redundant a month earlier. He found a suitable person for it and, through blackmail or promises, brought people to join his union,” Savić warns.
Željko Veselinović, chairman of the USS Sloga, says that every day, there are more and more trade unions bought or formed by the state.
“The Association of Trade Unions of Serbia was founded in 2014 when Aleksandar Vulin became Minister of Labour, and that union was made up of people who had been excluded from all other trade unions and then took advantage of the privileges the government gave them. This is not a trade union, but an interest group, which defends the interests of the government and certain groups”, Veselinović underlines.
Such a state union is active, he says, in many institutions such as social services, and its function is nothing but to defend the government when necessary. Moreover, Serbia also has so-called yellow unions, i.e. trade unions formed by employers, whose task is to protect the interests of the employer.
In Serbia, he points out, there are two large trade unions that were not formed by the government, but are in the service of the government – the police trade union and the trade union of Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS).
As an example of a yellow trade union, Veselinović cites Geox where, after a protest from four years ago, the management formed a union, which had no other function than to attack other trade unions such as Sloga.
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