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B92 Focus, February 2003.


No sunny spring ahead for Serbian state employees

Dreaming of two hundred euros
| February 26, 2003.

Employees of Serbia’s justice and health departments, with a monthly pay packet of about 200 euros, see themselves as little better off than the unemployed. B92's Snezana Stefanovic looks at the statistics on Serbia's poor.

Public servants in the health, education and justice departments have announced a series of protests and stop-works over low wages and late payments.  As a number of unions begin negotiations on ways to put pressure on the government, we look at whether they are as badly off as they claim.

Let’s begin with the judiciary.  There are vast differences in the pay rates of the 20,000 employees in this department.

For example, the monthly pay of a municipal court judge with many years of experience amounts to 520 euros.  An assistant, who is doing similar work, who has passed all the qualifying exams and has been waiting for a judicial appointment for five or six year while gaining valuable experience in the job, takes home just 188 euros.

A senior court officer with a high school education and many years of experience receives 150 euros a month, with typists and couriers on between 140 and 146.

In the health department the situation is even more grim.  Physicians do not earn more than 300 euros a month, with hospital residents on just 266 euros.

Medical technicians receive 200 euros a month and cleaners just half that.

Similar salaries apply in schools, ranging from 100 euros a month for maintenance staff to about 250 euros for teachers.

Maintaining purchasing power

According to the World Bank, the average Serb citizen spends 1,600 euros per year, Estonians 1,700, Polish 2,100 and Croats 3,200 euros.

These three departments account for about 400,000 members of Serbia’s workforce.  Nor is the outlook much brighter, say union leaders.

Finance minister Bozidar Djelic announced that salaries for these public servants would increase by up to 59 per cent this year with an average increase of between ten and twelve per cent.  Now, almost at the end of the first quarter, there’s been no sign of this.

There is also the Serbian government’s one-off cash bonus for these workers, promised last year before elections. This in the end amounted to just 16.6 euros each and is described by union leaders as an insult.

The average monthly expenses of a four-member family in Serbia amount to 169 euros.  This covers food, basic requirements and utility bills.

Communal, postal and traffic expenses, together with electrical power, make up 24 per cent of the monthly costs, about 40 euros.  This does not apply to families without their own apartment, who may be paying 200 euros per month or more in rent.

Seventy euros a month
Worse still is the situation of 36,000 Serbs who receive the national minimum salary, pegged for the first half of this year at just 72.5 euros per month or 41 cents an hour.

In December the average net salary in Serbia amounted to 192 euros.  Low, but 12.26 per cent higher than November’s figure.

Research conducted at the end of last year by Belgrade’s Strategic Marketing Agency shows 800,000 people living below subsistence level, with an income below 75 euros per month, barely enough to buy food.

The survey results, which showed the poor spending only sixty euros a month, will be used to define a strategy for dealing with poverty.

This project is to be financed through the World Bank with the support of the Dutch Government.

The survey, taken on a sample of 6,800 people on the basis of consumption rather than income, concluded that 10.6 per cent of Serbia’s population can be defined as living in poverty.

This poverty was more apparent in rural areas.  The poor tend to be concentrated in south-east Serbia (16.6 per cent), western Serbia (13.5 per cent) and central and eastern Serbia (10.2 per cent.

Predictably enough the lowest rates are in Belgrade (7.9 per cent) and the fertile northern province of Vojvodina (8.8 per cent).

The demographics of Serbian poverty are also predictable, with poverty most prevalent in households which include undereducated, unemployed and dependent people, the elderly and children under fourteen.

Also high on the list are households with five or more members and those working only in the grey economy.

The statistics also show a large proportion of the population clustered just above and just below the poverty line.

A million poor
About a million Serbs receive welfare payments.  These include those receiving child endowment allowances and other forms of assistance.

The amount of this assistance ranges from seven to 37 euros for family allowances with about 600,000 children receiving an allowance of 15 euros per month.

Another 12,000 Serbs receive welfare assistance from donations.

This year, about 199 million euros or 11 per cent of the budget will be spent in this way.

The unemployed are traditionally in the most drastic situation of all.  With Serbia still sporting an extensive grey economy, it is difficult to ascertain the true extent of unemployment.

According to the definition of the International Labour Organisation, there are 268,000 unemployed, while surveys show that 744,000 people declare themselves without work.

The official figure is more than 800,000 unemployed people in Serbia.

The Djindjic government may be happy to rest on its self-proclaimed successes in reforming the economy, but the unemployed, or the marginally employed state public servants are only too aware that reforms still have a long way to go.

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