The difficult socio-economic situation enslaves Kosovo workers

The difficult socio-economic situation in Kosovo, where more than 40 percent of the young population able to work are unemployed, has caused many workers, especially in the private sector, to become slaves of the 21st century. They are obligated to endure the behaviour of the company owners, because otherwise they can lose even the minimal wage that is offered. 

Such cases are taking new magnitude. There are cases where workers are injured at work and they’re not entitled to sick leave. Other times their limbs get amputated, and as soon as they exit the workplace, they are not paid anymore. There are even cases when the workers get injured at work and they try to recover themselves, without having the courage to inform the owners of enterprises. Violations of the rights to annual, weekly or medical leave have become so common that nobody even cares to deals with them. Not even the workers themselves.  It doesn’t make a difference to them whether they have one or two weeks of annual leave, if they have one day off a week or two.

However, there are more serious things directly related to the health of workers. One of these cases is that of S.I. from Gjilan, which recalls some of his experiences in the workplace. “10 years have passed since I started working as a truck driver – transporter for a company that sells construction materials. In the company there are 10 employees. Among the ten, only four are regular workers with working contracts, while 6 are without documents’, said S.I.. He is one of those without regular documents. He adds that he would be happier with lower salary if that would mean having a proper contract, that would mean also having an income after retirement. He is 45 years old.

 “As it is, I work for the day. Money is spent quickly, and later I will be left with no retirement safety net, without any saving”, he said, as he told us about the hard work he does. He, with the sincerity of a zealous worker, told that that same evening he would be heading to Albania.

S.I. is one of those injured at work; he lost the index finger on his right hand. “You may not believe me, but the day that I cut my finger, the owner cut my salary to half a day”, he said –he was not even paid for the hours he spent in the hospital. He confirmed that labour inspectors visit the company during the year, but according to him “it’s all a big sham”. He wasn’t able to present his case to the inspectors.

“It is unclear to me how company owners find out about pending inspector visits, but, those of us who are hired in the black, are notified to leave the manufactory, while the other colleagues that are hired regularly are ordered to be in their workplace”, he continued.

Upset by such behaviour and lack of perspective, S.I. told us that, even though he was asked by his superiors to leave the premises during inspector visits, he often stayed. Nevertheless, no inspector ever asked if he was equipped with working papers or not.

“I believe that they [inspectors] make agreements with the owners to not question me”, he said. He was adamant that if he were asked, he would have told them about the way he is treated at work. S.I. adds that when he tried to complain, the owner replied that many people would be willing to have his job.

He also told us that, during the winter season, when there’s not much work, only the four workers with contracts are kept on pay. “They send the rest of us home without paying us a cent”, he specifies it.

In his opinion, the state and the government firstly need to address the quality of inspectors, which he perceives as corrupt, and then ask companies to comply with the Labour Law.

For this unfortunate worker, whose case is not isolated, the Labour Law has been consistently violated. Firstly, because he worked for 10 years for the same company and still is without a contract. This violation produces an array of other problems, which de facto turn a worker into a 21st century slave. The enslavement of Kosovar workers is the result of faux-bureaucracy of labour inspectors, who, as described by S.I., inspect only superficially the implementation of the legal rights of workers.

Emine Klaiqi
Pristina, September 2015