In early October, the Serbian government adopted the Ministry of Health’s proposal that a doctor can send a sick worker on sick leave for no longer than a month.
The said decision was made allegedly because a number of workers had been taking sick leave without a valid reason. However, according to Eurostat data and the BBC, Serbia is one of the countries where employees take the least amount of sick leave.
According to the government’s proposal, the medical commission will decide whether the sick leave should be extended after 30 days. Trade unions and other workers’ unions say that there was no real basis for making such a decision, because “hardly any worker is absent from work for more than a month”.
As Nebojša Atanacković, the honorary president of the Employers’ Union, explains the reduced salary that comes with days of absence is the main reason for employees to spend as little time as possible on sick leave.
“People avoid taking sick leave in order for their salaries not to be significantly reduced. Furthermore, the employer-employee relationship has changed. Now it is much more regulated and procedures for laying off workers have been simplified. On the other hand, it is not worthwhile to the employer to have an employee who will often go on sick leave, especially when there is no justifiable reason for doing so”, Atanacković adds.
However, he goes on to say, he has encountered many situations where even when a doctor approves a 15-day sick leave, for instance, very few workers will use up all 15 days but return to work as soon as they feel a bit better.
Ranka Savić, the president of the Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions, agrees with Atanacković and points out that, in addition to salary, employees also lose bonuses due to absence from work.
“Although not feeling well people still go to work. The reason for this is simple – when they go on sick leave, their salary is reduced by 35 percent. On the other hand, many employers give incentives to employees who do not even have a day of absence or sick leave. Those “rewards” range from 5,000 to 15,000 dinars. A Serbian worker’s wages are low and a 35-percent-cut is substantial. Also, workers in Serbia very rarely go on sick leave for more than 30 days, so all the recent amendments to the relevant law were not necessary in practice. They will only complicate matters further because we don’t have enough doctors as it is and the amendments will exert more pressure on medical commissions now,” suggests Savić.
Dr Tatjana Radosavljević confirms that workers are reluctant to go on sick leave for fear that they might lose their jobs.
“With the arrival of companies such as YURA where workers wear adult diapers (to avoid bathroom breaks), sick leave carries the risk of dismissal. Therefore, it became normal for sick people to go to work, for measly salaries. Most employers don’t have the capitalist attitude but rather feudalistic and there is no one to protect the workers. Also, it is often the case that workers return to work before the end of their sick leave. I have patients who say that they were called by their employer and told that if they don’t show up at work immediately, they will lose their jobs,” notes Dr Radosavljević.
This post is also available in: Italiano