Willful failure to pay wages and benefits in Republika Srpska may result in sentences of up to five years in jail.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 22/12/12
An estimated one-third of BiH employees are paid late, while some are not paid at all. [Drazen Remikovic/SETimes]
On January 10th, Republika Srpska will adopt a new labour law that will provide stiff penalties for employers who willfully do not pay wages. The legislation also specifies conditions for benefits, such as health insurance and pension allocations, for employees.
Penalties range from six months to five years in jail and would be applied a week after parliament adopts the law. All political parties proclaimed their support for the law.
"Enterprise directors who are violators will be punished, regardless of whether they are public or private," Pero Dunjic, assistant to RS Justice Minister Gorana Zlatkovic, told SETimes.
Dunjic said the employer will be served with a criminal lawsuit if a court determines they have not pay a worker's wage or benefits for 90 days, while having money in the enterprise's bank account.
Citizens said late payment or non-payment is widespread, and workers fear retaliation in a country where nearly 30 percent, or 550,000 people, are unemployed.
"Now it will be safer on the job and we will not have to sue an employer, the state will do it for you," Ranko Fiolic, a Banja Luka shoe factory worker who resigned over not being paid for nine months, told SETimes.
Officials at Central Union, an umbrella organisation of 20 unions from all sectors, said the law will finally protect fundamental workers' rights.
"We are pleased that the government has finally adopted some of our request. About 30 percent of workers in BiH do not receive their salary on time. ... No one should be able to drive expensive cars and go on exclusive travels around the world while the workers are waiting hungry and thirsty. Finally, a step forward for workers' rights," Ranka Misic told SETimes.
Croatia will also apply the same legislation in the new year.
"The government will no longer forgive employers for unpaid wages," Orsat Miljenic, minister of labour and social care in Croatia, said.
Many employers, however, said the law will hurt businesses and potential investors, according to Ranko Milic, president of the Association of the Employers of Republika Srpska.
"This is a very bad message for all employers. The government is trying to portray us as criminals. There are over 58,000 enterprise blocked bank accounts across the BiH. Should we put all those people in jail?" Milic told SETimes.
"Basically, both sides are right. The law is good for workers, but discouraging for investors," Sasa Grabovac, president of the Association of the Economists in Banja Luka, told SETimes.
"While the government's intention is good, to protect workers, those who are about to start a business will think twice because in times of economic crisis, you cannot be sure that the work will always … bring the cash," Grabovac said.