Trade unions quit labor law talks, announce protests

BELGRADE -- Branislav Čanak and Ljubisav Orbović, who head two largest trade union organizations, have left the talks with the government on amendments to the Labor Law.

Orbovoić (L), and Čanak address reproters (Beta)
Orbovoić (L), and Čanak address reproters (Beta)

Čanak and Orbović, leaders of the United Trade Unions Independence and Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (SSSS), on Friday announced their decision, and said they would organize protests.

The first protest will be in Belgrade on July 23, and if the amendments reach the parliament, the protesters will camp outside the building, Čanak and Orbović told reporters after a meeting at the SSSS main office.

The government is wrong if it thinks foreign investors are drawn to Serbia by its cheap Labor, they said.

"The talks formally ended on May 29 and everything since then has been an attempt to deceive," Čanak said.

Even the meeting with the prime minister on Wednesday was an attempted deception, because one thing was agreed and something completely different was said at the meeting of the working group for the talks the next day, he pointed out.

The agreement from the meeting with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić was to accept an extended application of the collective bargaining agreement, but 16 new articles no one from the unions had ever seen were presented at the meeting of the working group the next day and the offer was in the form of "take it or leave it," Čanak remarked.

"Those are not negotiations, it is bullying. They brought the papers and said: 'Sign this,'" he stated. Čanak believes the government officials broke off the talks with their behaviour, adding that the unions would therefore do what they do around the world when denied the option to negotiate, that is go on strike and stage protests.

The protest on July 23 will be in the centre of Belgrade and pose as a warning, Orbović said.

"If the amendments to the Labor law get to the parliament, the protests will become constant. We will bring tents and camp across the street from the parliament," Orbović stressed.

This is not just about the Labor law, but also about the laws on privatization, pension and disability insurance and bankruptcy, he explained.

"Those are not reform laws, but laws that undermine employee rights in Serbia. Those laws are adopted automatically in Serbia, without any agreements and consent (from the unions)," he concluded.

Support from region

The Regional Conference of Trade Unions of the Financial Sector of South-East Europe (SEE) adopted a declaration supporting colleagues from Serbia who are opposing the adoption of the proposed labor law without a public debate.

The declaration was signed by leaders of trade unions of the financial sector of Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, the Serb Republic (RS) and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH) entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia.

The declaration, adopted in late June, notes that these trade unions support the proposal put forward by trade unions in Serbia for holding a public debate on amendments to the labor law before their passage, reads a release issued by trade unions of the financial sector.

We back all activities aimed at defending the rights of workers and trade unions that had been so hard to secure, underlines the declaration that Tanjug has seen.

Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin told reporters earlier that, in this case, the public debate is not necessary, given that this not an entirely new law, but rather amendments to the existing one.

The Serbian government would like to rush these amendments through parliament, as this is one of the four reform laws that should improve business conditions in Serbia, secure bigger foreign investments and create jobs.