100 reasons to protest and 1 million more to work

The high unemployment rate in Kosova makes the International Workers' Day less important. This year, 1st of May finds the Kosovar employees in a better position than last year. Now, the government has implemented a 25% wage increase, a decision which was taken one year ago. The collective contract was signed, even though it is not being implemented entirely due to huge budgetary implications. For this year its implementation will be completed only for one of its articles, namely the seniority.

Employees in the public sector are better off. It is somehow difficult for the public to understand their protests and strikes. Let's be clear: employees of the public sector have reasons to protest and to strike; they have been cheated by the government upon signing the collective contract, a contract which is not being implemented. They have been fooled because they were promised a yearly wage increase of 25%, a promise which is not being realized. Despite the fact that these decisions of the previous government were considered as electoral promises, workers and unionists have the right to request their implementation.

However, having said that, protests and strikes of public sector employees seem ridiculous in view of the working conditions of private sector employees, or even the conditions of those who are jobless.

Almost none of the main articles of the Law on Labor is respected in the private sector. A large number of employees in this sector work without contracts. This simply means that their pension contributions are not being paid and that the employer is avoiding taxes. Workers are not registered anywhere as employed and, as such, do not have anyone to complain to.

The largest number of employees in the private sector does not have two days off per week. In the majority of cases they work six days per week; there are cases when the day off is once every two weeks. This means that there are workers that rest only two days per month, while the law requires two days per week.

“I work six days a week, which means that I rest only one day. When the Law on Labor entered into force, the employer changed the contract and we were told that Saturday’s will be off, however, the wage will be lowered by 100 euros. If we wanted to have the same wage, we were told to sign off on the promise that we will work on Saturdays as well. So, there was no wage increase, only Saturday’s were now legally considered as working days”, stated Ismail who works in a distribution company for five years.

Safety at work appeared to be one of the main problems of employees who work in the private sector. According to survey data, only three out of sixty workers injured last year were compensated. This is the best indicator of the condition of workers.

Aside from the weekly rest, employees in the private sector have also problems with medical and annual leaves. In the majority of cases, the annual leave is not implemented as foreseen by the Law on Labor (4 weeks). Instead, the annual leave is on average 7 to 15 days, which is half of the time guaranteed by the Law on Labor. There is not enough data to show if medical leave is applied in the private sector.

“My biggest fear is if I get hurt during sport activities, because I know that I will become jobless. One colleague took leave without pay, and when he wanted to return to work, he was informed that his contract was over”, tells Ismail.

Since the entry into force of the Law on Labor, the number of employed young women has visibly decreased. This is one of the statistics that has worried the most the head of the World Bank Office in Kosovo. The reason for this phenomenon is the 12 month maternity leave foreseen by the Law on Labor. This right provided to women by this law, is in reality penalizing them as they seek for work placements. 

The 1st of May should be a day of protest. It should be protested to change the Law on Labor, which allows for the contract between employees and employers to also be in an oral form. This creates anarchy in this sector. The Law on Labor should be strict regarding the weekly holiday. It should be decided between two and one day off per week. This should be done based on a study, because in principle, if it is decided for the weekly holidays to be two days, does this mean that there will be new workplaces created when employers need workers during Saturdays and Sundays? The law is clear, but it needs to be implemented with regard to annual and medical leaves.

It should be protested so as to have more protection for workers from the state, particularly from the Inspectorate, because they are the only ones who can “protect” an employee from an employer.

On this first of May it should be protested mostly by women, whose rights are being violated. If it’s necessary, the Law on Labor should shorten the period of maternity leave to only 9 months, provided that the state would take the burden of paying for the rest of the time. This would initially be a slight burden for the budget, but in the long run, it would preserve the natural birth rates, and would not deprive women from the chance of being employed.

Just like employees, the unemployed have 100 reasons to protest on the first of May. All employees of the private sector should start establishing their own unions. Unions which protest not only on the 1st of May, but unions, which work throughout the entire year. Unionists that are not near the retirement age, but unionists of 20 or 30 years old, who have the energy and the courage to fight for justice. The state should make unions mandatory within each business or business sector, because in this way both the government and the employee will know where and to whom to address the dialogue on employees' issues to.

Unions and workers have 100 reasons to protest, however, there are one million other reasons for them to work more for protecting their rights throughout the year.

Merita Berisha
Prishtina, May 2015