Workers are (not) benefiting from trade union’s ultimatum

There are many documents of the Kosovar Government that ascertain the very high level of informality in the economy. It is estimated that 1/3 of the economy develops illegally, in breach of the legislation that regulates certain areas of life and business. Employment procedures are also subject to a similar level of informality. According to data published by the Ministry of Finance, it appears that around 1/3 of private sector workers are not registered, and employers are not paying taxes or social security for them. Similar data were recounted in a report published Riinvest Institute.

It is estimated that the agricultural and construction sector have a much higher level of informality than the average. A worker who doesn’t have a contract, for whom obligations are not paid, finds herself in the most extreme breach of her rights. The lack of a contract gives rise to many other violations as well, which for the private sector trade union can be considered as a slavery-like treatment of workers. Leaders of the union expressed their concern about the situation of workers in the private sector. They have criticized the Government of Kosovo for the unwillingness to change working conditions.

The chairman of the union, Jusuf Azemi, stated during a press conference that, apart from low wages (approximately 120 euros/month) and lack of employment contracts (which in some cases are issued after 10 years of employment for a validity period of 3 to 6 months), a matter of concern is the fact that nearly 70% of private companies do not pay contributions (social security) on employees’ salaries. He said that over two months of observations, his trade union has noticed that there are companies which haven’t paid any contributions in over consecutive 10 years.

 “These staggering figures are simply ending up in the pockets of company owners. And this reality has not changed despite the change of political powers in the 2014 elections. Its’ just the same old story” said Azemi.

According to Azemi, the Labour Inspectorate is not doing its job: for instance, five immediate deaths occurred during a short period of time, followed by seven cases of deaths after injusry injury in the workplace, which went unnoticed and unpunished. “There are over 470 cases of injuries at work according to our data, whereas penalties issued by the Inspectorate are about 100. This tells a lot about how they are working” he added. According Azemi, 50% of workers in the private sector are not registered; additionally, over 50% of businesses in Kosovo are also not registered. In 90% of cases of private sector workers, according to Azem, are considered as slaves.

He mentioned the case of school maintenance workers, which according to him are threatened whenever they protest or organize meetings. “These workers suspect that 10 euros are withheld from their salaries every month. This company has more than 100 workers. By withholding 10 euros from each of them, the company generates an income of 1000 euros per month. And this excludes other situations in which workers are being taken advantage of, which for now we don’t want to make public”, he said.

Given this situation, he has urged the Labour Inspectorate and tax inspectors, to reflect and to change their work methods. “Even in Prishtina, when inspectors go to visit certain companies, adjacent business close shop because someone informs them about the visit. This must be an agreement between the companies and institutions”, he said.

Azemi blames the Government and private companies’ owners for the current situation.

He added that if by October 15 private companies will not fulfil their obligations towards workers, the union will publicly declare their names.

“It is our right to stop working if no social security was paid on our behalf for 10 years. If there is any law that states that workers can be dismissed simply for asking for what is rightfully theirs, then surely there first person to be dismissed must be the minister” he said.

An ultimatum cannot be given without the consent of the workers themselves

The union ultimatum sounds more like blackmail towards companies. Quite the opposite: it is not expected to have any weight in improving the situation of workers. In the past, the union has pointed out certain companies, claiming they violate workers’ rights. However, if the union says that over 90 percent of employees in the private sector do not enjoy the rights granted by the Labour Law, then how it is possible that only 10 or 50 companies are to blame?

If the union criticizes a company, it should do so based on facts, the records for which should be submitted to the inspectorate. The statement of a worker does not constitute a fact. Instead, a clear list of which violations does each commit must be drafted.

Most companies do not have organized unions, thus private sector trade union mainly communicates with individual workers in different companies. Although internal information is needed, the findings of the individuals are not sufficient and do not guarantee reliable information. After all, what does a worker have to lose if s/he provides false information about his place of work? It is precisely events like the press conferences of the union that should prompt companies that invest in their reputation to want their workers to establish a union.

A proper trade union would be equipped in appropriately representing worker’s interests and would be the contact point for solving disputes. The refusal of company owners to allow workers to organize in unions gives more opportunity to people who are not representatives of the private sector to blackmail and to publish the names of the companies according to their will or personal agendas.

Merita Berisha
Prishtina, September 2015