Dignified or productive work?

By Miša Brkić

“I received a strange proposal recently – to visit factories in Serbia.

Strange, because it doesn’t say which factories and I’m not even invited by factory owners, but by people who have hardly ever set foot in a production hall, foundry, spinning mill, steel mill, rolling mill, paint shop, smelter, dairy, furniture factory, dryer, rubber, sugar factory, brewery, cement plant…

Thanks for the invitation, but I visited many factories while you were still “playing in the sand pit” and, as far as I can see, you are still playing there.

Along with the invitation, the proponents of the visit criticized the statement I made in the N1 TV’s morning programme when I said that “workers in Serbia do not work much and are not really productive.”

As an argument, they use Eurostat data according to which Serbs (and non-Serbs, I guess), after Montenegrins, work the highest number of hours per week in Europe – as many as 42.3 – followed by the conclusion that their salaries do not match their work engagement.

This criticism, published on the official website of a certain political party, teems with archaic political language that, like a time machine, brought me back to my journalistic youth when political party statements were an influential model of controlling the consciousness of the workforce and the main propaganda channel of communication between the political elite and the public.

Thus, among other things, this statement of the certain political party says the following: “Many people work two jobs to feed themselves and their families… In order for workers to be more productive, they need strength and food and they find themselves in situations where they are struggling to feed the children. Only through dignified work and economic security can a person be truly free.”

We want a society of dignified and free people and a better life for all our citizens”, the statement concludes. Memories (not tears) came flooding back after these archaic, heartbreaking phrases and slogans.

I seem to have hurt the class sentiments of the top brass of the party in question. That was not my intention. I know how subtle the class sentiments of that ideological background are.

I wanted to say something else, but their demagogic mind could not grasp it. My intention was to highlight the fact that, regardless of how much the workers in Serbia spend at work, their productivity is low.

In order to confirm this thesis, I did not have to visit the factories, nor measure and calculate the productivity of Serbian workers myself. Instead, I used an impartial source – the International Labor Organization (ILO).

And what does the ILO say?

It says that a typical worker in Serbia produces a value of 17.4 dollars per working hour. This result can be compared with data from other countries.

For example, the output of workers in Croatia per working hour is 37.9 dollars (more than twice that of workers from Serbia), in Slovakia – 35.8 dollars, in Bulgaria – 25.6 dollars, in Bosnia and Herzegovina – 25.3, in Montenegro – 26.1, in North Macedonia – 20.6 dollars, in Albania – 15.6, in Romania – 36.9, in Hungary – 36.7 dollars, in Greece – 41.2, in the Czech Republic – 40.8 and in Ireland – 122 dollars.

The world average of the worker’s performance per working hour is 19 dollars, in Southeast Europe that average is 37.9 and in the European Union 52.5 dollars. Therefore, Serbian workers’ hourly performance is below the global average and three times lower than the EU average.

Thanks to politicians, both in the government and in the opposition, the public in Serbia is enslaved by many and varied misconceptions and stereotypes.

Two big misconceptions are that we are “an economic tiger” in the region and beyond (which the government claims) and that we work a lot and earn little (which is why part of the opposition is shedding tears). Based on how they successfully “paint” the public, it could be said that both the government and the opposition are “masters” with very similar skills.

The fact that Serbia is the European leader in the number of working hours that workers spend at work in the working week is completely, from an economic and social point of view, an irrelevant fact when compared to the amount of value produced per working hour.

For example, a worker in Serbia (again, I’m citing ILO data) contributes to the annual GDP of the country with 44,324 dollars, in Croatia with 75,964, in Slovakia with 63,342, in Bulgaria with 53,527, in Bosnia and Herzegovina with 44,702 dollars, in Montenegro with 55,916, in North Macedonia with 42,985, in Albania with 34,018, in Romania with 75,895, in Hungary with 69,957, in Greece with 81,359, in the Czech Republic with 84,130 dollars and in Ireland with 222,016 dollars.

The average worker’s contribution to GDP globally is 41,018 dollars and in the European Union, it is 98,178 dollars.

What does this data show?

The shocking truth is that a worker in Ireland earns five times more value for a slightly shorter weekly working time (40.1 hours) than a worker in Serbia who works the longest hours out of all workers in Europe.

I understand but do not condone, the demagogic need of a group of politically like-minded people to condemn statements they do not like in order to ingratiate themselves with the working class using archaic propaganda rhetoric.

People here, for example, use the term “dignified work”. It’s an archaic term, doused with Epiphany (or perhaps, Bolshevik) water. No one on the planet today lives by “dignified” work.

Not a cotton picker in Egypt, not a miner in Niger, not a broker of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, not a governor of the Russian Central Bank, not a software engineer at NCR, not Princess Louise Windsor, not Jure Knez, not Mate Rimac, not Warren Buffett and Elon Musk, nor Draža Petrović.

The only criterion is productive work. Dignity is not a unit of measurement in economics. The worker’s salary is determined by the unit (quantity) of goods produced (or service delivered) and not by the time spent on the job.

Only inveterate demagogues are publicly surprised that the wages of workers in Serbia do not correspond to the time the worker spends at work.

An individual (worker) can be free if they are productive if they have proven themselves (manifested) through productive (or innovative) work, and thus, as a result, ensured for themselves economic security and dignified life.

There is no dignified work, there is only dignified life, which is possible only through productive work. The more productive work, the more dignified life. Those who cannot afford it because their salary by doing one job is too low will of course work two jobs if they want to live with dignity.

The economic freedom of an individual is not a gift given by the state, it is acquired only through productive work. I’m not sure that the moneylenders and demagogues know that and I am pretty sure that none of them have ever visited a factory.”

(Danas, 15.08.2023)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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