The lack of occupational safety

Xhevdet M, in March of last year was in an accident while working on the façade of a building in the neighborhood Mat, Pristina, falling from a height of 8 meters. “There weren’t any protective fences. If there would have been a net, I would not have fallen from the second floor. There was not even a rope to save me from falling”, says Xhevdet. “I know that in many other countries, there are many safety rules for people working at height; here in our country the employer tells us to open our eyes, but he doesn’t give us any protective equipment”.

Xhevdet’s employer blamed him for the crash. “I was threatened to lose my job. I didn’t take any salary for the period of 8 weeks while wearing a cast, obviously unable to work. During that time, it was very hard to face the household daily spending, because I’m the provider”, says Xhevdet.

Xhevdet is one of the 64 people who suffered injuries at work over the past year according to the data of the Labour Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. But different trade unions say that the number could be even higher, since there is no precise data from hospitals and police, while employers attempt to avoid reporting work injuries.

A report by the Centre for Policy and Advocacy states that, according to a survey, only 3 people who were injured at work during 2014 have been compensated. Article 59 of the Labour Law provides for sick leave and compensation for workers injured in the workplace.

The employee in case of illness is entitled to sick leave regularly on the basis, up to twenty (20) working days within one (1) year with compensation of 100% of the salary”, reads the first paragraph of this article. “An employee is entitled to sick leave without pay under Article 40 of this Law. 3. The employee is entitled to compensation for sick leave due to injury at work or occupational disease which is related to the performance of works and services for the employer at 70% of his salary," says further second paragraph.

Meanwhile, employers are obligated not only to provide all equipment necessary to ensure safety at work, but also to train their employees on safety. Safety in the workplace is a key issue not only for employees, but also for employers. The issue of safety and health at work is regulated by Law No. 04 / L-161 on Safety and Health at Work, which was adopted in May 2013 by the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo.

The purpose of this law is the establishment of measures to improve the level of safety and health of employees at work. This law contains general principles on prevention of occupational risks, the elimination of risk and accident factors, information, consultation, balanced participation in improving the health and safety at work, training of employees, their representatives and the general guidelines to implement these principles.

The provisions of this law are applied in the public, private, public-private and state administration sector, at the central and local level. The provisions of this Law are applied for apprentices, pupils and student in practical work during schooling, persons serving sentence engaged in work, visitors, business associates, service users and persons in professional vocational or rehabilitation of the employer. The provisions of this law are not applied in sectors, whose activity is regulated by special laws, such as the Kosovo Security Forces, the police, firefighter’s service and rescue and protection services.

This law mandates severe penalties for any employer who does not implement its provisions. Any employer who is caught in violation can be fined from 500 to 35 thousand euros. However, the number of tickets issued during 2014 remains symbolic, because the Labour Inspectorate gives out mainly warnings, since they consider that the education of the employer can be done even without any fine.

The construction sector is considered the one with the highest risk at work. Whereas the implementation of the Labour Law and the Safety and Health at Work becomes even more difficult for this sector, estimated to have the highest level of informality. The data presented by the Ministry of Finance say that at least 1/3 of the economy develops illegally. Employment in the sector is among those with the highest level of informality.

Most of the construction workers are working without contracts. They work long hours and have less than two days of rest each week. The lack of labor contracts makes it impossible for an employee to make a claim against his employer in case his injury at work.

"I planned once to sue my employer, because he has offended many times, and above all, treated me as a slave, but when I consulted with a lawyer he asked for my labor contract, which I didn’t have. Suddenly, all became more difficult", continues Xhevdet.”Then I asked my friends who witnessed the event to testufy what they have seen, the fall and my subsequent physical condition, but they asked me not to make this request because they may be out of work and have nowhere to go."

Xhevdet is still working in construction. He has bought a rope to secure himself when there is work on higher floors. “I have no choice because this is what I do best. I’m trying to avoid high altitudes and with my money I bought some equipment for my own safety, because I understood that no one cares about us employees,” says Xhevdet.

Merita Berisha
Pristina, April 2015