Work health and safety has been and will remain one of the priorities of our Ministry
In her interview for Diplomacy&Commerce magazine, Serbian Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Darija Kisić Tepavčević, talks about the pandemic’s impact on the labour market, work health and safety and the position of women in Serbia.
How did the pandemic affect labour relations and rights?
During the two years of the pandemic, our state fought hard to repair the consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which are not unique to our country. One of our main goals since the onset of the pandemic was to preserve the lives of our citizens, but also to find solutions that will enable the smooth functioning of the health, economic and financial system.
In terms of the work process, we dealt with all the challenges that the pandemic brought with it, with remote work being one of the novelties. Remote work, as one of the preventive measures implemented during the pandemic, has proven to be quite effective. We have developed a Guide to Safe and Healthy Remote Work, which has helped both employers and employees to create safe and healthy working conditions and has resolved certain concerns regarding the obligations and responsibilities of employers, as well as the rights and obligations of employees.
In order to prevent layoffs as a result of interruption or reduction of workload, the Labour Law allowed employers to send employees on paid leave for up to 45 working days in one calendar year, and if necessary longer than 45 days. This legal possibility has contributed to the preservation of existing jobs due to the temporary suspension of work in certain business sectors, especially in the catering industry, during the pandemic.
We also extended annual leave days for employees. At the initiative of the Serbian Trade Union of Health and Social Welfare Workers, which they submitted to us in January 2022, the Ministry prepared a draft decree recommending that employers allow employees who did not use their annual leave in 2021 due to the nature of their job in the emergency services and the COVID-19 pandemic, or due to temporary incapacity for work because of suffering from COVID-19-related illness or due to the need to self-isolate in accordance the law, to use those annual leave days in 2022.
Most importantly, the disbursements related to the workers’ rights during the pandemic went smoothly and we were not late with any of them.
The results we have achieved are very significant, as evidenced by the many new factories open in Serbia and new jobs created. We can be proud of the fact that in 2021, over 200,000 people from the National Employment Service records got a job, which is a 7.2 percent increase compared to the previous year. Even some more developed countries cannot boast of such a result.
Did the Ministry step up the inspection of work health and safety?
Of course, we did. Work health and safety has been and will remain one of the priorities of our Ministry. For these reasons, in 2021, the Ministry was focused on improving the staff capacity and equipment of the Labour Inspectorate. I can proudly say that our inspectors have achieved significant results in the previous period, despite the difficult working conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have advertised 13 labour inspector vacancies, and in the upcoming period, we intend to boost our human resources by hiring additional 44 labour inspectors. Last year, we procured the necessary technical equipment – scanners and computers – for their work. We are currently in the process of buying vehicles, which are a required work tool for our labour inspectors and a prerequisite for efficient inspections.
“The results we have achieved are very significant, as evidenced by the many new factories open in Serbia and new jobs created”
The Labor Inspectorate will primarily focus on reducing the number of injuries at work and preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, by conducting inspections ex officio and making more emergency inspections, especially in high-risk activities like construction and industry, throughout the Republic of Serbia.
In 2021, labour inspectors performed 63,670 inspections related to labour relations and work health and safety, of which 32,920 inspections are carried out in the work health and safety segment. In 2021, the Labour Inspectorate issued 4,154 writs related to occupational health and safety, as well as issued 9,825 measures to eliminate the identified shortcomings and 492 writs banning work on-premises. Due to the established illegalities, the Labour Inspection submitted 1,442 requests for initiating infringement proceedings regarding work health and safety.
They made a special contribution in terms of inspection related to combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which were carried out in conjunction with other inspections. Since October 23, 2020, when the Working Group for Coordination of State Inspections began working on controlling the anti-COVID-19 measures, the Labour Inspection has performed 20,974 joint and coordinated inspections with other state inspections and inspections from local self-governments and other state authorities, in order to supervise the implementation of anti-epidemic measures.
What is your view on work health and safety during the pandemic?
More efficient work and an increased number of inspections in 2021 resulted in the more consistent implementation of prescribed work health and safety measures. Also, in the previous period, we were committed to improving the legal framework related to work health and safety and drafted the Law on Work Health and Safety. I am confident that the new legal solutions will create conditions for a safer and healthier working environment, facilitate more productive work, encourage economic growth and employment and improve the functioning of the labour market, all of which will positively affect the economy.
What is the current situation in the Serbian labour market and what are the projections for the next period?
The labour market in the Republic of Serbia has managed to maintain stability, with the current unemployment rate standing at 10.5 percent. The presented year-on-year fluctuations of indicators show that the labour market is recovering, as the indicators are returning to the pre-pandemic level.
There is a continuous growth of registered employment. In the third quarter of 2021, Serbia had a total of 2,287,459 employees, which is an increase of 62,617 persons, or 2.8%, compared to the third quarter of 2020. At the same time, data collated by the National Employment Service indicate a continuous decrease in registered unemployment. On the last day of 2021, there were 477,564 people on the unemployment register, which is 3,638 fewer than in the previous month, while compared to the same period last year, the number of unemployed decreased by 13,783.
“In the coming period, we expect to see further improvement of the situation in the labour market, employment growth and lower unemployment”
The state has allocated 6.5 billion dinars towards the implementation of active employment policy measures in 2022, in accordance with the Republic of Serbia’s Employment Strategy for the period from 2021 to 2026. Also, thanks to additional education and training programmes, subsidies for employment in public works will cover 20,165 employees (of which 2,285 are persons with disabilities).
In the coming period, we expect to see further improvement in the situation in the labour market, employment growth and lower unemployment. According to the projections published by the European Commission in the autumn of 2021, Serbia is expected to gradually reduce the unemployment rate to 9.2% in 2023.
What is the position of women in the labour market and does female entrepreneurship have a good future in our region?
Female entrepreneurship is a very important topic, especially from the aspect of improving the position of women in the labour market, which is our strategic commitment. In the past five years, the position of women in the labour market has improved. Although some progress is visible and significant processes have been set in motion, the relevant data show that women are still at a disadvantage in the labour market, i.e. that they continue to face the challenge of constantly trying to prove they are equally important actors in all segments of social, economic and political life.
The Republic of Serbia’s Employment Strategy for the period from 2021 to 2026 recognizes women as a vulnerable group in the labour market and as beneficiaries of additional, intensive and integrated support, to adequately prepare them for efficient entry into the labour market and facilitate their sustainable economic empowerment.
We also expect a lot from the new Law on Social Entrepreneurship. The Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs has recognized the importance of the social entrepreneurship sector and its role in the socio-economic empowerment of socially vulnerable groups, including women. For the first time in the Republic of Serbia, the Law on Social Entrepreneurship will legally regulate this area and encourage women to be socio-economically empowered through an innovative approach.