While the guaranteed minimum “turns” around 40,000 dinars, and unions are receiving clear indications that they do not expect it to grow this year, inflation due to significantly more expensive food is impoverishing household budgets month after month. The question arises as to what should be the salary that enables a decent life in Serbia. Some indicators say – higher than 114,000 dinars.
Official statistics say that the average salary in Serbia (last data for April) is 83,812 dinars. However, there is no precise data on how many of the 2.3 million employees work for the minimum wage, and how many for salaries significantly above the average.
It is known, however, that half of employed workers are not only unable to earn an average salary, but a salary higher of 63,954 dinars is also unattainable for them. Namely, this is the so-called median salary, which is exactly “in the middle”, so half of the employees receive less than that, and half of the workers receive more than that amount. Among this half of the lower-paid workers, a significant number, and only estimates of around 400,000 people are used since there have been no official data for years – receive the minimum wage, which this year ranges from 36,800 to 42,320 dinars, depending on the number of working days in the month. When asked whether it is possible to calculate how much the average citizen of Serbia needs for a normal life when it comes to income, i.e. salary, Mario Reljanović, president of the Association Center for Decent Work and research associate at the Institute of Labor Law from Belgrade, told the portal N1 that there are statistical calculations that can give an answer to this question “in some average costs that a family can or must have”.
“Certainly, individual costs will depend on the specific needs of that family, life circumstances, health condition, children’s age, and others.” says Reljanović, who points out that the concept of “Living Wage” is based on covering the usual costs of food, housing, health care, clothing and shoes, transportation and education, as well as including about 10 percent of extra money for unforeseen expenses. “What is definitely necessary to emphasize is that in relation to the calculations that were made only a year or two ago, we have to take into account the real increase in the cost of living that does not correspond to the official level of inflation.” On the contrary, many products that are an integral part of normal daily consumption have risen in price by 50 percent or more. That’s why calculations in the age of inflation are ungrateful and can only show how much money was needed at one point in time when the cut was made,” Reljanović points out. For example, a year ago, the living wage was about 115,000 dinars. “It’s quite clear that a year later we can’t be talking about the same amount,” he says.
Bojana Tamindžija from the organization Center for Emancipation Policies states for the N1 portal that, according to the calculation of the Clean Clothes Campaign network, which was made with available data for the year 2021, the living wage in Serbia is 114,752 dinars. “It is clear that we do not take into account the huge inflation from 2022 here, and that amount would now be proportionally higher”. As she explains, a living wage should cover the costs of food, housing, clothing, transportation, education, health care (if paid) and include the ability to set aside a small amount of money on the side for unforeseen expenses or savings. “In the Clean Clothes Campaign network, we believe that a living wage is a universal human right that must be applied to all workers regardless of their status in the workplace, their productivity or their personal status (eg marital status). It represents the minimum wage level and no worker can receive an amount less than the established living wage. “The living wage should be sufficient to cover the most basic needs of workers and their families, it should go beyond mere survival and give the possibility of full participation in social life,” emphasizes Tamindzija.
In the consumer basket – what citizens can afford
The average consumer basket, which according to the latest available data for April 2023 amounted to 98,073.87 dinars, greatly exceeds the average salary. Not to mention the “media” one, to which “only half of the employees in Serbia go.”
“How, as has been emphasized many times, the minimum and average consumer basket are not statistical categories related to recommended consumption, but show how much (what is) the consumption of the poorest in Serbia (minimum basket) or the middle income class (average basket). Their confusing names do not correspond to the purpose of collecting this data, and affirming the minimum consumer basket and tying it to the minimum wage in the Labor Law itself is actually a defeat for the state, which tends to multiply the poverty of its citizens,” explains Mario Reljanović, who says that there are “anomalies” in the average consumer basket originate. “These are the amounts and types of food consumed by a certain segment of the population, not the recommended amounts for someone to live ‘average’. Therefore, the structure of such a basket is devastating because it shows the low standard of even those who have an average budget in Serbia,” says our interlocutor, who adds that to calculate the real minimum costs that are an indicator of a dignified life, a complex methodology is needed, which was used during the calculation of the ‘living wage’. “The ratio of these amounts, as you yourself noticed, is devastating – for example, if we take the living wage from August last year of about 115,000 dinars, at that moment it was at the level of three minimum wages, i.e. slightly less than two median wages earnings. In the meantime, the minimum wage has been increased by an amount that inflation has eaten many times over, so now we can talk about at least 3.5 times the minimum wage (and probably four) in order to reach the standard of normal life in Serbia. It’s the same when it comes to medial earnings – it’s certain that two medial earnings can no longer cover the mentioned costs,” Reljanović points out.
Bojana Tamintžija explains that both the average and the minimum consumer basket are indicators of consumption and tell us what people in Serbia are able to afford for their earnings. “The average consumer basket measures the average consumption of households from 4 to 8 deciles, and the minimum of the three poorest strata of the population from 1 to 3 deciles, which also includes households that eat in soup kitchens.” “Unfortunately, such a minimum consumer basket is a parameter in determining the amount of the minimum wage, which we often call the legalization of poverty,” she warns.
In addition, she points out, there is no calculation in Serbia of how much it would cost a family of three to feed themselves with basic food.”And, the criterion for determining the consumer basket of the poorest households is 2,280 calories per day, the value of which is reached by a large amount of cheap high-calorie products, which are mostly unhealthy.” One of our goals is to introduce the calculation of the living wage into domestic statistics and renew it annually, which is not difficult if there is a will, and only then we would be able to see how much we earn in relation to what we would need to live decently. “, concludes our interlocutor.