Aleksandar Vulin, Serbian Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy: Serbia is getting closer to successful modern countries

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The entire government considers boosting employment and achieving a better quality of life for all of our citizens as its primary goals. Through its numerous activities, the Ministry continues to work on improving labour legislation, combatting unregistered labour and stimulating employment in accordance with the relevant legislation.

The Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy is set to have a very dynamic year ahead, during which it will continue working on labour laws, fighting the shadow economy and further boosting employment. Moreover, the Ministry is also responsible for taking care of migrants. Here we talk to Minister Aleksandar Vulin about the Ministry’s results in 2016 and the tasks ahead.

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Which of the reforms that your Ministry is in charge of are the most important for creating a favourable business environment?

Since 2014, the Ministry has been conducting reforms in labour legislation (e.g. the Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Labour Law, which came into force on 29th July, 2014) and this is something we will continue to do. In cooperation with our partners on social issues, we have formed four taskforces that are preparing draft laws, namely: the Law on Temporary Recruitment Agencies, which is supposed to eliminate unfair competition among agencies and improve the business environment; the Law on Temporary Seasonal Employment, which will contribute to combatting the shadow economy in agriculture (where unregistered labour is the most widespread) by legally regulating the issue of unregistered workers; the Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Law on Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes, and the Law on Strike Action. The goal of the amendments and supplements to the Law on the Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes is, first and foremost, improving the legal framework in this area, where the role of the State Agency for the Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes will become more pronounced in order for as many individual and group labour disputes as possible to be settled in a peaceful and efficient manner without the need to go to court. The new Law on Strike Action is supposed to harmonise workers’ right to go on strike with the principles and guidelines set out by the International Labour Organisation, and to allow social partners to participate in determining the minimum work process.

How successful have the amendments to the Labour Law been and what are the best results so far achieved following the implementing of amendments?

The Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Labour Law, which is considered one of the reform laws, has improved conditions for doing business and reduced administration and labour costs. By doing so, this law has contributed significantly to the creation of a more favourable business environment. In this respect, Serbia has now moved closer to successful, modern countries. In 2012 unemployment in Serbia was 23.9%, but when we look at unemployment in Q2 2016 we can see a noticeable difference, with the unemployment rate now standing at 15.2%.

Another novelty brought by this law is also that the fact that a payslip is now treated as a public document. Thanks to this change in regulations, in the period from 1st January to 4th October 2016, 2,616 workers managed to receive outstanding salaries totalling 199,208,545.45 dinars.

It is also important to note that labour costs have also been reduced, employment has increased and many unregistered workers are now properly registered.

The Law gave a better stipulation of reasons for termination of employment and a simplified procedure for termination of employment by employer. Another very important thing is that collective negotiations have been raised to a higher level as they are now given preference over unilateral regulation of employer’s rights, obligations and responsibilities.

The changes made to the aforementioned laws have also improved the work done by the Committee for Determining the Representativeness of Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations, because decisions are now made by majority vote rather than by consensus.

How much can the Ministry contribute to combatting the shadow economy within the scope of its work?

We have been trying really hard to help those companies that want to do business legally and make their business profitable. Compared to previous years, inspection supervision has been improved. In the first nine months of this year, labour inspectors found 26% more unregistered workers relative to the same period in 2015. In 2015, they found 16,408 unregistered workers, which was a 181% increase compared to 2014 (when 5,831 workers were found). The good effects of the work done by the inspectors can also be seen in the fact that, following inspections, employers have hired close to 80% of unregistered workers, in accordance with the relevant regulation.

On two occasions this year – in July and September – labour inspectors carried out additional inspections in those companies that had been found to have three or more unregistered workers during the earlier inspections in 2016. The reason for this was that they had noticed that certain employers, which had unregistered workers in the past, continued with the same practice after a while, i.e. again hiring unregistered workers, while some went as far as to remove their employees from the employment records kept by the Pension and Disability Insurance Fund and to retain them at their company as unregistered workforce.

The effects of fighting the shadow economy can also been seen in more employees now being registered for pension and disability insurance. From 7th December 2013 (when a ban on hiring additional civil servants came into force) to 20th November 2016, the number of civil servants fell by 7.38%, while the number of workers engaged outside the public sector rose by 12.73%, which means that the number of workers registered for pension and disability insurance also rose by 4.70%. As of 18th November 2016, the money paid into the pension and disability insurance fund went up, compared to projections, by 6.7 billion Dinars, i.e. by 2.1%. The revenue from salary contributions as of 18th November this year had risen compared to the same period last year by 4.2%, or 13 billion Dinars.

The goal of the active employment measures implemented by the National Employment Office is to promote and stimulate formal employment, which, again, has a positive effect on reducing unregistered labour. I would also like to underline the importance of incentives for new jobs for employers who hire people that are not easily employable, as well as self-employment subsidies.

When will the draft Law on Labour Leasing Agencies and Seasonal Employment be completed?

The Ministry has to adhere to the relevant procedure according to which we must, prior to submitting the draft law to the Government, conduct a public debate and garner the opinions of other relevant ministries, the Socio-Economic Council and the European Commission. The expected deadline for submitting the draft Law on Temporary Seasonal Employment to the Government and the Parliament is July, while the deadline for the draft Law on Temporary Recruitment Agencies is December next year.

What will the Ministry focus on in 2017?

The entire government considers boosting employment and achieving a better quality of life for all of our citizens as its primary goals. For next year, the Government has allocated 2.8 billion dinars for active employment measures and 550 million dinars for subsidies for employing people living with disabilities. Also, our Ministry has the mission of representing ordinary people, dealing with their concerns, worries, virtues and flaws. We are going to continue shutting down illegal housing, combatting the shadow economy and fighting against domestic violence. We have been working on changing regulations related to the legal protection of families, creating so-called social cards, social inclusion of welfare beneficiaries into various activities (education, acquiring skills and helping them to receive treatment for addictions, as well as their inclusion in society, the programmes of the National Employment Office, public works and similar). We are doing all of this while respecting their decision to do this voluntarily and adhering to the relevant regulations, because we know that finding employment for them will result in stronger individuals and stronger families.

Our priorities in 2017 will definitely be centred on chapters 2 and 19 in the EU accession negotiations, which pertain, respectively to freedom of movement for workers and social policy and employment.

How successful is Serbia in dealing with the migrant crisis, for which Europe is yet to find a comprehensive solution?

Despite the European Union and Turkey concluding an agreement in March 2016, the Western Balkan immigration route is still not closed off. The best illustration of this is the fact that, since the beginning of this year, over 108,000 people have illegally entered Serbia and there are currently over 6,000 migrants in Serbia.

We will continue implementing a responsible and humane policy towards migrants, whilst fully respecting their human rights and also being mindful of the interests of Serbian citizens. The Government did adopt its Reaction Plan, which covers the winter period and stipulates protective measures for migrants in Serbia and the protection of our state border. We will continue acting in a humane manner, with every man, woman and child in need getting meals, beds, clothes, shoes, medical and psychological/social support, just as before. However, Serbia cannot deal with this crisis alone. The European Union needs to have a vision and to allocate more funds to resolve the migrant crisis. Serbia would like to receive direct budgetary assistance and advocates for the fair utilisation of EU funds even though it is not a fully-fledged EU member, considering the burden it has to carry and its humane approach to this problem. We have had several constructive meetings in Brussels at which we have been promised additional financial assistance, which we are counting on. All this time we have represented a good example of how to successfully and responsibly manage the migrant crisis. We have established an excellent cooperation format with NGOs and international organisations, but the main reason for us dealing successful with this issue was the fact that the state was the coordinator of all of the aforementioned activities aimed at supporting and assisting the migrant population in Serbia.

There have been quite a few unsupervised children among the migrants. Are they an additional burden for our social services?

Serbia took care of 136 minors who came to our country without adult supervision in 2015. Up until 18th November 2016, the Centres for the Accommodation of Foreign Minors Unaccompanied by Adults in Serbia (located in Belgrade, Niš and Subotica) took in 241 children. So, the burden on our social services did increase, because in all of these cases we have placed unidentified minors without adult supervision into temporary foster care. Moreover, the social services centres in the areas of transit in Serbia, especially around Preševo, Dimitrovgrad, Zaječar, Belgrade, Kanjiža, Subotica, Sombor and Šid, also act as reception centres for particularly vulnerable groups of migrants.

How involved is the Ministry in searching for new solutions for the permanent integration of readmitted Roma people?

The Ministry is actively involved in integrating the Roma population. The Ministry also officially proposed the 2016-2025 Strategy for the Social Inclusion of the Roma People in the Republic of Serbia, which the Government adopted in March this year. This strategic document stipulates the measures covering education, employment, healthcare, accommodation and social protection. It also stipulates measures for integrating the readmitted Roma population. We are currently working on a two-year action plan for the implementation of this Strategy, which includes all the activities pertaining to the integration of the readmitted Roma population.

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