Serbian salary law angers unions

13/11/2012

Union representatives said that the government has until the end of the month for talks on the law limiting public sector salaries.

By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/11/12

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Unions said the new law will harm those making minimum wage. [EBRD]

While the scene is not on par with Greece or Italy, union members have taken to the streets in Serbia to protest increasingly frequent layoffs and the advancement of a law limiting salaries in the public sector. The unions are not happy with social dialogue with the government either, and are calling for better communication with top state institutions.

Last week, union members rallied outside the government headquarters, issuing warnings and announcing more radical protests.

"We gathered in front of the government building, because only from there could they hear us. They are deaf to our demands, which are justified, and want to endanger those who are already endangered," union leader Milan Grujic told SETimes.

Union representatives of utility companies' employees and the Confederation of Free Unions said that limited salaries will harm the poorest parts of the population.

Union leader Milan Grujic told SETimes that the law would further lower the salaries of coffee vendors, drivers and couriers, who already earn the minimum wage. The unions have said they will radicalise their protests if the government passes the law and set a deadline of the end of the month for talks.

Finance and Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic responded that the law would not pertain to employees at the lowest earning levels, rather only to the management.

"The objective is to limit the excessive earnings of public company managements, rather than of people with the lowest wages," Dinkic told the media.

The unions say they're waiting for the government to prove that claim.

About 2,000 members of the Confederation of Free Unions carried banners with slogans such as "Stop corruption," "Stop the sale of public companies" and "We want laws to be applied."

"Only 1 percent of Confederation members came this time, but next time there will be many more of us. In the first 100 days of work, the government has done nothing for the workers, except announcing the reduction of salaries, dismissals and the annulment of the right to strike," union leader Ivica Cvetanovic told SETimes.

But not everyone agrees with the demands.

Nebojsa Atanackovic, the head of the Employers' Union of Serbia, said the country needs to save in order to avoid excessive debt and keep spending within real capacities.

"We believe that the differences between the highest and lowest salaries should be reduced and harmonised," Atanackovic told SETimes.

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He pointed out that the real economy was carrying the load of budget sector expenditures, and proposed the redistribution of state companies' funds as the solution.

"Everything can be arranged within those organisations in such a way that those with the lowest earnings get slightly higher salaries, while the salaries far higher than those of real sector employees occupying the same posts are harmonised," Atanackovic said.

Labour and social policy ministry officials say that the problems will be solved through social dialogue and talks with the unions and employers.

"No decision will be made without the consent and agreement with social partners, and the unions will play an active part in the making of all new laws and regulations. No proposal will be detrimental to employees and will not strip them of the rights they already have," Zoran Martinovic, ministry state secretary, said. He also announced that more intensive talks and consultations with union representatives will be held in early 2013.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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