“How to reconcile, on the one hand, the fears of employers and the state due to lower incomes and revenues and, on the other hand, the needs of workers, who are in the worst position, especially shop assistants and people working in other services, with regard to Sunday work?” asks Milica Marinković of the A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, adding that a solution can be reached through social dialogue, which is currently lacking.
“Workers are not heard. The only people that are heard are those who advocate working on Sunday, namely the employers,” she points out.
Professor of the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade, Jelena Žarković, says that the answer to the question depends on the points of view: “Employees, of course, would like a higher salary and more free time, which is not always easy to achieve,” she underlines.
“Social dialogue is the solution, and the willingness of the state not only to take employers’ side but to honour more workers’ rights,” Marinković adds.
Jelena Žarković also says that the pandemic has further highlighted the question of how we will work and how many days and hours per day. “I think the risk caused by the virus should be borne by all three sides: the worker, the employer and the state,” she said.
Asked whether retailers would be at a loss if they were closed on Sundays, Žarković said she found no evidence that abolishing Sunday work would lead to a reduction in the number of jobs, saying that half of EU countries work on Sundays.
“Even the employers are not interested in having a tired worker, because this will reflect on their productivity and on the company itself,” she said.
“The state says that, due to companies having a lower turnover, the state budget revenue is reduced too but the question is whether an employer will have to bear higher health costs due to more exhausted workers,” she said, adding that there is hardly any evidence of negative effects of not working on Sundays. “You can always try a pilot measure for a year or two, and if it goes wrong, go back to the old system,” Jelena Žarković suggests.
When asked why having Sundays off work is important, Marinković says that that is important for the worker’s family life and their overall quality of life.
Marinković also added that some employers are willing to close on Sundays, but because of competition they must remain open, so the measure of abolishing Sunday work should be prescribed systematically and at the state level.
As for workers being adequately rewarded for working on Sundays and public holidays, Marinković says there are many small shops across the country where shop assistants often do not know how much they earn, “especially women who signed blank job contracts, without asking whether they will be paid on Sundays and public holidays or not.”
Žarković recalls that the salaries of shop workers are among the lowest, and they do a lot of overtime. “A country-wide survey showed that there is a significant number of workers working up to 60 hours a week, with very low wages, especially in the service sector,” she warns.
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