Zoran Djordjević, Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs: Further Implementation of Measures and Reforms

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The Ministry’s plans for 2019 are closely related to the resolution of the aforementioned issues in regard to social inclusion of citizens and families who are faced with difficulties in exercising their basic existential rights.

We will intensify the work on building the capacities of social work centres and their links to the institutions that provide health care, education and employment services, as well as with the police, judicial authorities, civil society organizations and local self-governments. We will continue with investments in social care institutions that are closely related to their obligation to meet the legally defined conditions and comply with the licence obtaining standards, that is, improving the quality and not increasing the capacity of these institutions.

At the end of this year, Serbia broke another new record in reducing unemployment. How much is this a result of creating quality jobs and how much is it due to a demographic change and a part of the workforce becoming passive?

– According to the Workforce Survey’s data for the third quarter of 2018, the employment rate has reached a new record for the period for which we had a comparable data series (2014-2018) and it stood at 49.2%, while the unemployment rate, in the same observed period, recorded the lowest value of 11.3%.

Based on this survey, we can conclude that, despite the decrease in the total number of persons aged 15 and over, the increase in employment and the reduction in unemployment are the result of job creation and employment.

Increased economic activities certainly had an effect on the creation of new jobs. According to the data collated by the Ministry of Economy, in the period from 2016 to October 2018, a total of 64 agreements on the allocation of incentives for investments were signed, and thanks to the projects implemented under the mentioned agreements, at least 31,090 new jobs will have been created.

Although there is a high number of unemployed and inactive persons in Serbia, companies often cite lack of quality workforce as the key limiting factor in regard to their growth. What can the Ministry do, in the scope of its authority, to satisfy this demand?

– The National Employment Service conducts an annual survey among employers in which they state the need for certain occupations, know-how and skills of the workforce. The data obtained from the survey are important for the planning and inclusion of the unemployed persons in the training process to suit the demands of the labour market.

Investing in the quality of the workforce and bolstering human resources is an investment in the future and society’s prosperity. By introducing specialist training for the IT sector, a significant number of persons have been able to acquire the necessary knowledge and thereby increase their employment opportunities.

During the preparation of the National Action Plan for Employment for 2019 (which is supposed to be adopted by the year-end) the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs gave priority to additional education and training programmes. In addition to the professional practice programme, the Ministry provided an additional support to youth employment with the two new programmes to be implemented in 2019 – a trainee programme for young people with completed higher education, as well as a trainee programme for the unemployed with high school education that ought to result in unemployed persons finding employment in private sector and the compensation for the trainee wage costs.

I would especially like to underline that more funds are provided for the implementation of measures under the active employment policy in 2019 compared to 2018 (increase from RSD 3.65 billion to RSD 4 billion), while RSD 550 million was allocated for the promotion of employment of persons with disabilities.

Do you think that the new Labour Law will closely follow in the changes brought on by digitization?

– Lately, the digital revolution and the rapid development of digital technologies have led to significant changes in the work organization, changes in the labour market, the emergence of new jobs and new flexible forms of work for both highly qualified and low-skilled employees.

The Labour Law also regulates the work status and protection of employees working outside the employer’s premises, which includes long distance work and work from home. These categories guarantee all employment rights, and due to the specific nature of this type of work, working hours are the subject of a special agreement in line with the work norms. This means that employees who work outside the employer’s premises can work limited number of hours, have the right to rest during the day, and the right to daily, weekly and annual holidays, to which other employees are also entitled to, in accordance with the Labour Law.

I believe that it is our duty to monitor and take into consideration all aspects of the impact that digitization has on work in order to adapt legal and other regulations to new work formats with the view of protecting employees and ensuring adherence to international labour standards. This also applies to the new Labour Law which is supposed to be adopted in 2020 the earliest.

How can we maintain dignified work principles when the nature of work has been changing so drastically?

– For years, together with the International Labour Organization, trade unions and employers’ associations, the Serbian government has been continuously working on planning and cooperation in the segment of dignified work. In the previous period, we implemented the “2013-2013 Dignified Work Programme in the Republic of Serbia”, and by the year-end, we expect the new agreement on the 2018-2022 Dignified Work Programme to be signed.

The draft Law on Temporary Employment Agencies has been more praised than criticized, but many are concerned that the good solutions that this law contains will be erased during the public debate. What can we expect?

– A task force, comprising the relevant state authorities and organizations, social stakeholders like trade unions and employers’ associations, as well as other interested associations and organizations, have been working on the draft of this law for over two years now. The draft text of the law is, for the most part, harmonized with the wishes of all society’s stakeholders, apart from a handful of issues.

I don’t think that we should categorize legal solutions as good or bad. What we are talking about here is representing various interests and views regarding certain legal solutions. One side might think of one legal solution as being “good”, while the other might think of it as “bad” or “unfavourable”.

We should keep mind that the adoption of this law is a major step towards improving the working conditions and protecting people who, in the previous period, were employed through various agencies and were treated as second-rate workers. This law, first and foremost, ensures that people who are employed through agencies have the same wages and the same working conditions, as well as that they are directly employed by the employer in question, and this is what will be upheld at all times.

It seems that the European labour legislation is moving in the direction of defining a common set of rights for all job contracts, and not having special laws governing each type of a job contract. What do you think of this?

– Apart from job contracts, labour legislation also regulates contracts that govern issues related to people who work but are not officially employed, i.e. the issues that are limited by time, duration, subject of contract or persons who can conclude it. However, working while not being officially employed is becoming an increasingly frequent practice, and there are special laws that regulate other types of contracts that are concluded beyond the scope of employment, where the legal status of workers, as a contracting party, is not clearly defined. This situation is unsustainable and it is necessary to establish minimum standards for all types of work in order to ensure dignified work for all working persons with adequate compensation, which is also guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.

Our labour legislation is in the process of compliance with the international standards of the European Union, hence the Labour Law will have to define minimum working conditions in accordance with these standards for all types of work, and not only for officially employed persons. This relates primarily to limited working hours, daily, weekly and annual leave, protection of pregnant women and maternity leave.

Regarding the right to safety and health at work, regulations guarantee this for all workers, regardless of the type and duration of the job contract.

To what extent can Serbia apply inclusive solutions in the welfare segment?

– Social inclusion is one of the basic principles that the Ministry is guided by in drafting all strategies, laws and bylaws regulating the field of social protection.

Maternity benefits, that are of crucial importance for the poorest families, are regulated by the Law on Social Protection, while the Law on Financial Support for Families with Children is also important, as it regulates the child allowance.

The Law on Social Protection stipulates the competencies of the state and local governments in meeting the social needs of citizens. Social protection rights are exercised before and through social work centres whose experts should recognize the difficulties that a person has in fulfilling the basic existential needs and, in accordance with their assessment, instruct the user to use a certain service or to exercise a certain right. In addition to social work centres, local governments are an important factor in the realization of the social protection rights and in social inclusion of their citizens because they create the conditions for rendering support services.

Through provision of services, users are encouraged to get involved in social activities, as well as to contribute to the improvement of their own and the well-being of their family through their work or activities.

The Ministry has done a lot on development of social protection services by introducing a mechanism of special-purpose transfers through which funds from the state budget are transferred to the budgets of those local governments that govern in the areas that are below the state’s development level and that are intended specifically for the development of community services. So, after the decree on special-purpose transfers was adopted, a total of RSD 400 million was transferred in 2016, another RSD 700 million in 2017, and RSD 700 million in 2018.
Considering all of the aforementioned, our focus is on increasing the availability of the right to material benefits, services and programmes from the social protection system, which be realized by the forming information links between different sectors and the introduction of a social card system, which we, in the Ministry, consider a high-level priority.

What are the Ministry’s plans for 2019?

– The Ministry’s plans for 2019 are closely related to the resolution of the aforementioned issues in regard to social inclusion of citizens and families who are faced with difficulties in exercising their basic existential rights.
First and foremost, we are expected to adopt a new Social Protection Development Strategy that will focus on combating the effects of poverty, taking into account the best interests of children and families, and supporting our oldest citizens and especially people with disabilities. Establishing a new strategic framework will define the directions of the development of the social protection system and the improvement of the services provided under this system.
We are also planning to adopt a Community De-institutionalization and Development Strategy, as well as a Strategy for the Prevention and Protection of Children against Violence. Preventing and combating violence against children and protecting children from violence is one of the priorities of the national policy of the Republic of Serbia. Violence against children is a phenomenon that is present in all societies, cultures and parts of the world. A number of children suffer from violence every day, and violence against children represents a gross violation of the rights of the child. This is why a new multi-annual strategic framework for the prevention and protection of children against violence has been developed, as well as an action plan for the implementation of the Strategy. Furthermore, a new, improved General Protocol for the Protection of Children against Violence has been developed and all three documents are expected to be adopted in 2019.
The Ministry will continue to actively cooperate with all relevant domestic and international organizations in order to promote children’s rights through participation and support in various programmes and projects aimed at protecting and improving children’s rights.
The Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Family Law is one of a series of legislative activities that we plan to work on next year, as well as the Law on Amendments to the Law on Social Protection. I also have to mention again the Social Card Law that will help different sectors to establish information links in order to improve social protection and the adequacy of the financial provisions for financially vulnerable and other vulnerable groups in the population.
The draft Law on the Children’s Rights and the Children’s Rights Ombudsman was also drafted. This is a law that is considered quite unique in the European legislative practice, given that a single law contains formal and legal validation of the rights of the child and the relevant mechanisms, primarily related to promoting and respecting for the rights of the child like the Children’s Rights Ombudsman. With this law, Serbia will meet its international obligation before the Committee on the Rights of the Child and create the basis for further promotion and respect for the rights of the child, regardless of the fact that we have already achieved significant results in this field.
One of the challenges ahead is the introduction of a new unified work organization of social work centres using the same model of organization for all services that will be linked at the territorial level which, in turn, will ensure equal treatment in all social work centres and provide the same quality of service to end users in the entire Republic of Serbia.
We will intensify the work on building the capacities of social work centres and their links to the institutions that provide health care, education and employment services, as well as with the police, judicial authorities, civil society organizations and local self-governments.
We will continue with investments in social care institutions that are closely related to their obligation to meet the legally defined conditions and comply with the licence obtaining standards, that is, improving the quality and not increasing the capacity of these institutions.

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