Workers fall victim to jobs scam in Sochi


Thousands of workers from Southeast Europe headed to Sochi for what sounded like a dream job in constructing venues for the Olympic Games. In some cases, when they arrived, they found out differently.

By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 28/02/14


Thousands of illegal workers from Serbia and BiH were hired for construction jobs for the Olympics. [AFP]

Milan Vukelja left to work on an Olympic construction site in Sochi, Russia, this summer with dreams of a regular salary and steady employment. But his dream became a nightmare two months later when he and 20 men from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia were deported for being illegally employed.

"We had a promise from the manager of Serbian employment company Hey You that we were not going as illegal workers, that we would have good conditions, food and documents. Nothing of that was fulfilled. The entire group of workers was arrested and deported from Russia," Vukelja, from a village near Prijedor in BiH, told SETimes.

The group was promised about 4,000 euros for two months of work, but so far they have only received a small part of that.

Elena Krsmanovic from Serbian NGO Astra said the organisation has had about 20 calls from workers who were victims in Sochi. They said there are about 500 Serbian workers in Russia.

"We have had some cases in which the victims were returning to Sochi, because they managed to get some money from employers. They consciously became victims again just to gain the chance to feed their families," Krsmanovic told SETimes.

Around 5,000 Serbian workers have gone to Russia over the past four years. Most of them were in Sochi, working in bad conditions, Sasa Simic, president of Serbia's independent construction workers union, told SETimes. Serbia and Russia do not have an agreement guaranteeing workers' rights.

"We finished the job ahead of schedule and demanded our pay. A Russian man came in wielding a gun. He was like the baddie in a gangster movie. We took what little money they gave us and left," Sasa Matic, an unemployed 41-year-old from the western Serbian town of Sabac, told Reuters of his experience.

The problem with fraudulent job offers in EU countries is so big that the Banja Luka police department recently issued a public warning to prevent people from trusting various organisations.

The false organisations are paid hundreds of euros in fees, but the victims do not get official visas or work permits. After being paid, the "employment agencies" close their doors and do not answer their phones. The victims then become members of an army of underpaid workers with suspicious permits.

According to a study last year by human rights group Pour la Solidarite, there are between 5 and 7 million workers without permits in the EU. If these workers are caught, they are deported and their employer pays a large fine.

According to the Republika Srpska Ministry of Labour, unemployment in BiH is a large problem.

"The privatisation of large enterprises left workers without jobs and they can't find other engagement. Many of them risk going to other countries to work illegally, and then be deported. Also they risk to pay a fine but, in many cases, their salaries are not enough to cover it," Minister Petar Djokic's office told SETimes.

Boris Pupic, the spokesman for the BiH Agency of Work and Employment, said there is no estimate of how many workers from BiH are in other countries illegally.

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"BiH has an agreement on employment with Slovenia, and with Germany on the employment of medical staff. Nothing else is regulated. Employers are less likely to engage BiH citizens for employment because they know that we are required to check the conditions for our workers. Therefore, most employers in the EU that seek workers from BiH involve private employment agencies," Pupic told SETimes.

In the case of Vukelja and other workers in the Sochi group, the owner of the agency that sent them to Russia, Dusan Kukic, was arrested and charged with human trafficking.

Vukelja is still waiting to see his salary.

What actions can regional governments take against employment companies that illegally send workers to EU countries? Share your thoughts below.

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Are countries in the region doing enough to counter illegal cross-border trafficking?

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