ZORAN DJORDJEVIĆ, Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs: DECENT EMPLOYMENT FOR ALL

The key priority of the Ministry is to establish a stable, sustainable and efficient trend of growing employment based on the postulates of equal opportunities and decent work for all which is in line with the Goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Social dialogue at the state level represents a tripartite process between representatives of trade unions, employers and the Government, while we could view collective bargaining and the work of socio-economic councils as its most important forms. The Labour Law sets the basis for social dialogue, primarily for the establishment of trade unions and employers’ associations, and then the manner and conditions for determining the representativeness of trade unions and employer associations, which is one of the conditions for participation in collective bargaining which result is a collective agreement, as well as participation in certain bodies for which the participation of representative trade unions and associations of employers is envisaged, such as the Social Economic Council of the Republic of Serbia and local social and economic councils.

What are the key priorities of your Ministry from the perspective of achieving the sustainable development goals?

Establishing a stable, sustainable and efficient trend of growing employment as a result of increased economic and investment activity, based on the postulates of equal opportunities and decent work for all. This is in direct correlation with the Goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

Given the complexity of achieving many goals, including the Goal 8 how do you collaborate with other government members on these objectives and how do you coordinate various public policies that should contribute to the accomplishment of this goal?

In terms of the cooperation and coordination of the work done by the state administration bodies in the creation of sectoral and multi-resource public policy at the operational level, this is realized through working groups and bodies in which we can identify the connection and compatibility of the proposed solutions with the existing strategic, normative and reform documents policies of relevance and impact on the regulated area. At the same time, cooperation takes place within the framework of the process of monitoring the implementation of policies through continuous communication and exchange of information between departments targeting a specific policy area, that is, the preparation of consolidated reviews of the implemented measures and activities, or rather the achieved effects. For instance, the implementation of the National Employment Action Plan, which is the key operational document in the employment policy system that defines the goals and priorities, the categories of employers, programmes and measures of active employment policy that will be implemented during the current year, etc., is also being monitored by the Working Group for the Preparation of the National Employment Action Plan consisting of representatives of relevant ministries (education, economy, youth, finance, public administration and local government), social partners (representatives of associations of employers and representative trade union organizations) and interested institutions and stakeholders (the State Secretariat for Public Policies, Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team, etc.). The said working group is an example of good practice and a sustainable and high-quality mechanism of cooperation in the field of employment policy.

One of the important goals of sustainable development is eradicating poverty. In 2016, the absolute poverty rate in Serbia was 7.3%, while 1% -1.5% of the population suffered from extreme poverty. At the same time, in terms of the number of relatively poor, Serbia was the first in Europe. Which of these data is most important to you and how much focus does the Ministry put on them?

Serbia is seriously dedicated to measuring and monitoring poverty. Every year, we monitor and report about a nationally specific poverty line (i.e. Absolute poverty), as well about the persons at risk of poverty according to the EU methodology (relative poverty). Also, the data on the number of persons who have exercised the right to financial welfare assistance – which is the basic measure of financial support to the poor – is important to the Ministry, and in that sense, the threshold for exercising the right to financial welfare assistance can be treated as an administrative line of poverty. It should be noted that the state has managed to protect a significantly larger number of families in the last few years thanks to this measure (the amount of welfare funds, as well as the number of users has doubled). Regarding the concepts of poverty and the methodologies for their measurement, it is important to mention that Serbia remains committed to this topic, to continue with the expert monitoring of the different vulnerability indicators, and especially with analyzing beneficiaries of welfare assistance. Serbia is seriously committed to improving living standard and reducing poverty, so the different concepts of measuring poverty should be viewed from that perspective, namely how they can further point to specific vulnerabilitie, help identify the most vulnerable and provide adequate protection to them.

Research shows that the biggest problem that children are facing is violence, as is poverty that threatens every third child in Serbia. What are your priorities in this area and which partners have you been collaborating with on implementing these priorities?

Serbia has a significantly developed legal and other regulation that stipulates protecting children from abuse and neglect in order to prevent violence and to ensure comprehensive and continuous protection, assistance and support to children who suffer violence as described in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Following the initiative of the Council for the Rights of the Child of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, a new Strategy for the Prevention and Protection of Children against Violence, covering the period from 2018 to 2022, is currently being drafted, as is an Action Plan for the implementation of this strategy.

For the first time ever, the line ministry has a sector that will deal only with issues of gender equality and the active role of women in society. In which segments should the position of women be improved first in the short term?

The Gender Equality Law, from 2009, stipulates affirmative measures for improving the position the less represented gender (and these are the mostly women) in certain areas of public and social life. Owing to such measures and the introduction of quotas for participation in the election process from the state level down to the local level, the participation of women in the political and decision-making process has increased inthe past few years. Also, the healthcare segment has recorded important results in this respect and we can now say that gender equality is alive and well in this ector which is also validated by the EU Gender Equality Index, which ranked Serbia very high in this area. There is still a lot do to in the work and employment sector where Serbia could implement further short-term measures for the protection of women during pregnancy leave related to the provision of uninterrupted career advancement, faciliating opening of nurseries and day care facilities in primary schools, promoting Mathematics and IT technologies in terms of having more women studying, and also having more men studying to become nursery teachers. By the end of the current year, the Ministry plans to introduce, among other things, two very important laws: Amendments and Supplements to the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination and the Gender Equality Law, which will comprehensively improve the position of women as well as men in the Republic of Serbia. Of course, there is still an urgent issue of gender-based violence and domestic violence, which requires daily, long-term and sustainable engagement of state authorities and institutions, other structures, the media, civil society organizations and the entire population in order to reduce the violence and help the victims. The results in this field are not visible that quickly because fighting against violence, which is based on the patriarchal organization of society, requires a long and demanding work, and entails coordinated efforts that the Serbian government insists on.

In addition to bolstering employment, Serbia has taken on a variety of obligations to provide decent work for all. In that context, are you considering further improvement of the relevant laws and practices that would ensure better social dialogue and a more equal relationship between employers and workers?

The Republic of Serbia has ratified the following ILO Conventions in the segment of workers’ rights to organize themselves and partake in collective bargaining, which are an integral part of the Republic of Serbia’s legal system, namely: 1. Convention No. 98 on the Rights of Workers to Organize and Collective Bargaining (1949) 2. Convention No. 87 on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) 3. Convention No. 135 on the Workers’ Representatives (1971) 4. Convention No. 144 on the Tripartite Consultations to Promote the Implementation of International Labour Standards (1976). The right to organize and establish trade unions is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. According to the Constitution, workers’ and employers organizations can be established without the intervention of a state that also must not interfere with their internal affairs. The Labour Law is a legislative framework that stipulates the establishment of trade unions and employer associations, while the Law on Associations is implemented in supsidiary manner. The establishment of the Socio-Economic Council (SEC) of the Republic of Serbia in 2004 has created an environment for a more successful conduct of social dialogue at the national level. The goal of founding the Socio-Economic Council is to establish and develop social dialogue in matters that are important for the realization of economic and social freedoms and human, material, social and economic status of employees and employers and their living and working conditions, development of a culture of negotiation and encouraging peaceful resolution of collective labour disputes. Social dialogue also permeates the SEC’s regular sessions. The Council met three times in 2018, and eight times in 2017/ In addition to the Socio-Economic Council, there are also socio-economic councils that operate at the territorial autonomy level and in local self-government (local socio-economic councils). In the course of its work, the Council has considered a series of issues that are important for the material, social and economic situation of employees. However, in the future, it would be necessary to strengthen its role and the establishment of local social and economic councils. It is a general assessment that the Socio-Economic Council does not fully implement the role which it has been given, and the solution to this problem lies in improving the culture of social dialogue at all levels. One of the most important forms of social dialogue is certainly collective bargaining. Amendments to the Labour Law from July 2014 facilitate social dialogue and collective bargaining in conclusion of collective agreements at all levels. Representatives of the Ministry do participate in the negotiations about conclusion of collective agreements with employers, namely public enterprises and enterprises founded by the state, as well as in the negotiations about conclusion of special collective agreements for public companies and public services. It is very important to conduct social dialogue also through the Working Groups that are drafting laws. The Government Work Plan for the period 2016-2018 envisages the drafting of regulation that covers strike and the peaceful resolution of labour disputes.

According to relevant surveys, Serbia is the country with the most pronounced inequality in Europe. What support measures for vulnerable categories can the Ministry use to bridge this gap?

It is unemployed persons that belong to the difficult-to-employ category and the unemployed persons who, due to their ill health, or lack of appropriate education, or having certain socio-demographic features, or living in the areas where demand and supply in the labour market are out of balance, or having difficulty finding job due to other circumstances are given priority or exclusivity for inclusion in the active employment policy programmes and measures. Inclusion of unemployed persons into the additional education and training programmes creates an opportunity of them to acquire additional knowledge, skills, competencies and get acquainted with the real world of work. The affirmative action measures, that is facilitating the inclusion of particularly vulnerable groups and persons on welfare in the labour engagement and employment programmes, ensures equal access and equal opportunities in the labour market, which is the prerequisite for the economic empowerment and independence of each individual and a form of fight against poverty and social deprivation.

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