People in Serbia are scraping by – How much money is enough for a dignified life?

How much money is needed for a dignified life in Serbia? We posed this question in last week’s newsletter and received the following responses: 85% of readers believe that a salary of at least 1200 euros is necessary, 14% think that they can get by with an average salary of 800 euros, and 1% believe that 600 euros, which is the current median salary in Serbia, is sufficient. No one thinks that a dignified life is possible with the minimum wage.

The minimum wage in Serbia is about 47,000 dinars. In comparison, the cost of a minimum consumer basket is around 53,000 dinars, according to the latest data from March. Thus, statistics show that the minimum wage in Serbia does not cover the cost of basic monthly expenses.

Regarding the average consumer basket, it amounts to around 102,000 dinars. Data indicate that about 40% of this money is spent on food alone.

However, Ranka Savić, president of the Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions, says that the very act of separating the average and minimum consumer basket is not common practice in other countries.

“No European country recognizes a minimum consumer basket and an average consumer basket. This is something our government introduced because it suits them. Then they can claim that there has never been a greater increase in the minimum wage in history, while in reality, it is less than it was the previous year,” Savić explains.

What is the function of the minimum wage?

When asked what the purpose of the minimum wage is if it cannot provide a worker with a normal life, Savić says none.

“The minimum wage across Europe is designed to genuinely meet minimum living needs. It is not uncommon for the minimum wage in Europe to be adjusted during the year due to crises, disturbances, and inflation, which has become absolutely impossible here,” she emphasizes and adds that there is another problem with the minimum wage in Serbia, which is the lack of respect for the law.

“The Labour Law clearly states that an employer can pay the minimum wage for a maximum of two years and exceptionally, for an additional year with the consent of a representative trade union. Does anyone adhere to that in this country? Here, they keep people on the minimum wage for years. When we call the inspection, they say they can’t do anything about it. There is no law. If there were, we wouldn’t be talking so much about the minimum wage and it wouldn’t be important. There wouldn’t be 350,000 people on the minimum wage if the law were respected,” Savić adds.

Many survive thanks to seasonal jobs

Savić also adds that within the union, they conducted research on how much money is needed monthly to survive.

“In Belgrade and Novi Sad, the answer was around 140,000 dinars, and in the rest of Serbia, primarily in the south, the majority answer was around 100,000 dinars. This surprised me,” she adds.

It is a known fact that the standard of living in southern Serbia is the lowest out of the entire country, that average salaries do not match those in the rest of Serbia, and that workers’ rights are often violated. The latest case involves workers from Yura’s factory in Leskovac, who went on strike for three weeks due to low wages and poor working conditions. They cited unsanitary toilets as the trigger for the strike.

It is not uncommon for people in Serbia to take on additional jobs to make ends meet. This practice is particularly prevalent in southern Serbia, says Savić.

“We asked people in southern Serbia if they work seasonal jobs. They do, in huge numbers. Many people go to Bulgaria and Greece during the summer periods and survive based on that. They couldn’t make ends meet with what they earn here”, Savić adds.

How Much Money is Needed Monthly

In addition to the survey conducted in the newsletter, we also asked people how much money they needed monthly to survive. The answers are mostly similar – and rarely mention amounts less than 1000 euros.

“My rent has increased significantly over the past two years, so now I pay around 400 euros for a one-bedroom apartment, including bills. I mostly eat in the canteen, which helps with food costs, as food would otherwise be my biggest expense. But since I live alone, if I want to cook something, I generally need at least 1000 dinars for one meal. To buy milk and eggs costs me 400 dinars, and these are basic necessities,” says 22-year-old student Sara, who has been living in Belgrade for three years.

Petar, a final-year student at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, says he survives on 700 euros a month, but only because he still receives support from his parents.

“I have an arrangement with my parents; they pay for the bills and the phone, which totals around 100 euros a month, while I pay the rent since I got a job in my third year of studies. Sometimes they send me money, but generally, I try to be as independent as possible. It’s tough because living in Belgrade is quite expensive. I am originally from Užice, where life is much cheaper, but wages are also lower. However, recently, I feel that prices are rising everywhere, so there isn’t much of a drastic difference anymore,” explains Petar.

Students generally agree on one thing – if they do not live in a dormitory, the most significant expenses are rent and food.

Huge Expenses for Families

Older respondents reported similar amounts. Fifty-year-old Gordana says that a salary of 150,000 dinars is enough for a normal life, provided the person does not have loans to pay off and lives in their own apartment or house. If there are such financial burdens, the amount increases. She adds that unforeseen expenses are also a significant cost.

“Birthdays, weddings, and funerals are a big hit on the household budget, mainly because they are not regular expenses. An average four-member family cannot attend a wedding without spending 150 to 200 euros on a gift, especially if it is a wedding of close relatives or friends”, she adds.

“A minimum wage of 100,000 dinars would match the expenses that citizens in Serbia have. And these are costs that, in terms of basic necessities, are not behind those in Europe. In fact, the price of many items is higher than in the European Union. Of course, when we talk about this salary – if we take the example of a four-member family, it is assumed that both parents are employed, because with one salary, that family would not be able to survive,” concludes Ranka Savić.

“Average” Salary is not Enough

In a survey conducted earlier this year by Lokal Press, the majority of Serbian citizens felt that the average salary is not sufficient for a normal life, especially considering that most earn less than the official average. According to data from February this year, the average salary in Serbia was 94,125 dinars, but every other resident earns less than 73,000 dinars.

According to data from the State Statistical Office, only ten cities in the country contribute to this average, with only three recording average salaries above 100,000 dinars – Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Bor. Seven cities have averages over 90,000 dinars. This second group includes Pančevo, Lajkovac, Lučani, Kragujevac, Majdanpek, Kostolac, and Niš.

Most people have incomes between 70,000 and 80,000 dinars, and 19 towns and municipalities have averages below 70,000 dinars, including Arilje, Rekovac, Aleksandrovac, Raška, Golubac, Bojnik, Vlasotince, Lebane, Crna Trava, Gadžin Han, Merošina, Ražanj, Svrljig, Bela Palanka, Vranjska Banja, Bosilegrad, Bujanovac, Preševo, and Blace.

The results of surveys from six local media outlets in Serbia indicated that residents in smaller towns also find the average salary insufficient for a normal life, needing at least 100,000 dinars per person monthly.

Instead of using parameters that ensure a decent life, the authorities in Serbia pride themselves if citizens have just enough to survive. After so much subsistence living, socially humiliated people have long forgotten what a dignified life means, so being able to buy new shoes for your child, pay for a foreign language course, or send them to the seaside is considered a luxury. And God forbid you want to buy slightly better-quality food daily.

(Vreme, 03.07.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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