Workers should also protest against their bosses!

The protest of the construction association and manufacturing enterprises of Kosova, which took place on the last days of April in Prishtina and which aimed to unblock the constructions in the capital city, unveiled many problems which could have continued to remain unnoticed. The protest brought to the surface problems that exist within construction companies, which hire thousands of unsatisfied employees.

Hundreds of employees took the streets to express the dissatisfactions of their bosses. Nevertheless, they themselves also had many reasons to protest. Their working conditions do not fulfill the minimum criteria set by the laws in force, such as the Law on Labor, the Law on Occupational Safety and Health, other regulations etc. 

Firstly, many employees had gone even 3 months without receiving the wages they were entitled to. Secondly, the Law on Labor foresees that a worker should work 8 hours per day, and 40 hours per week (or 5 days); some workers have declared that they have only one day off per week, which means that they work 6 days per week. On average an employee works 18 hours more than the 40 hours foreseen by law. Medical leave is out of discussion. 

I.B. employee of a company, who was chanting together with the others for the resignation of the Director for Urbanization, Liburn Aliu, and for the resignation of the Chief of Urban Services in the same directorate, Ergyn Haradinaj, talked very honestly about the pressure he faces at his workplace. “It is better to work like this and earn a living for my family, than to confront my boss and lose my job”, stated I.B. 

Such logic may seem reasonable given the circumstances in Kosovo, where unemployment is above 55%. But in reality, this is just a form of slavery.

Violations of the Law on Labor by construction companies go even further. There are some who declare wages of 250 and 300 euros per month, but provide a part of the wage to the employees in cash. This is done to avoid income taxes, payments to the Pension Trust, health insurance for employees who are insured by private insurance companies etc. All of these are obvious to employees, but because “something is better than nothing” they tolerate injustices and in one way or another reinforce this form of behavior by their employers.  Work Inspectors are the ones who should find out what is really going on with Kosovar workers in different companies, in particular in construction companies.

Such developments also reveal the abnormal functioning of the state, which is still failing to acknowledge the free market as it should. Otherwise, worker’s rights would be respected uniformly in both sectors, the public and the private one. Certainly these rights would be controlled from work inspectors, which, by not allowing violations of worker’s rights, would at the same time help in protecting human rights.

It does not take a lot of effort to realize that similar situations are present in the majority of private companies, complaints are heard daily; but unfortunately, positive changes are very slow. What is even worse is that in the construction sector, these problems became clear only after the confrontation of constructors with officials from the Municipality of Prishtina.

Several days after the announcement of the protest by constructors, the Center for Policies and Advocacy (CPA) presented disturbing findings with regard to the violation of workers' rights due to noncompliance with the Law on Labor and the Law on Occupational Safety and Health. After conducting 173 interviews in the region of Prishtina: 91 interviews with workers from the service sector, hotels and trade, and 82 interviews with other workers from the private sector, it resulted that 38.46% of the interviewees from the service, trade, and hotels sector work without a contract, whereas, 59.76% were declared not to have a contract in the construction sector. 81% of employees in the construction sector were declared to work 50-60 hours per week, while only 9.82 were compensated with money for the extra hours of work. In addition, the report showed that 73.17% of construction workers declared to not be provided with a paid annual leave, while 26.83% were provided with such leave.

Other problems mentioned in the report are those of occupational injuries; the majority of workers were not paid at all. “During 2014, according to the report of the Inspectorate, 64 workers were injured seriously, while 9 were injured fatally, only three received compensation for their injuries”, states the report of CPA. The report also shows that the same practice continued in 2015, where 7 serious injuries and 3 occupational deaths were reported. None of the injured received compensation.  

In a public appearance of the Chief Labour Inspector at the end of April, it appeared as if he were a representative of civil society and not the leader of an institution, which monitors the implementation of legislation. While leaving many loopholes, his speech made one realize that the situation will remain unchanged for a very long time. 

 

Emine Klaiqi
Prishtinë, April 2015