“Collective agreements in focus of (non)decent work”

A joint Round table of Confederation of Autonomous Trade unions of Serbia and UGS Nezavisnost, under the title “Collective agreements in the focus of (non)decent work” was held on 29 – 31 March 2015 in Vrnjačka Banja. The meeting, attended by presidents and secretaries of both trade union centers, Secretary of the Socio-Economic Council of Serbia, representatives of branch trade unions and territories, and Coordinator of ITUC/PERC SEE Office in Sarajevo, was organized with the support of Pan European Regional Council (PERC) and Swedish trade unions LO and TCO.

The Round table considered the solutions from the Labor law related to the collective bargaining and agreements, analyzed concluded collective agreements, and discussed the relevance of the ILO Convention 154. It could be argued that the labor legislation in the Republic of Serbia contains fundamental bases for collective bargaining, but it has to be emphasized that they are insufficient and do not stimulate its development. This is corroborated by facts that Serbia does not have a General Collective Agreement, and also that the applicable collective agreements exist mainly in public sector, where the state appears as an employer. Collective agreements with the employers in private sector are exception, rather than a rule. It was pointed at a number of dilemmas related to legislative solutions, which ultimately affect their enforcement in practice. Particular focus was on Article 3 of the Labor law, which provides for exceptions, that is, situations in which collective agreements cannot be concluded, some of which are of such a kind that they completely disregard the principally proclaimed privilege position of a collective agreement.A phrase “general act” shall mean a common name for collective agreement with employers and the Rulebook on labor, so that the employer, along with the existing exception, opt more for the Rulebook on labor, rather than collective agreement.

With the latest amendments to the Labor law (July 2014), a possibility for extension of collective agreements effects, given the conditionality, is reduced to the level of a territory. The most demanding condition is filing evidence that the collective agreement, whose effects should be expanded, obliges employers who employ more than 50% of employees in a certain branch, group, subgroup, or activity (it was 30% earlier). If we consider the state of affairs of the employers’ organizations in Serbia, which are not truly representative, as they do not represent the majority, neither in terms of quantity that is the representation in the labor market, nor in terms of economic power, it is not realistic to expect the observance of this condition in majority of economic activities.

The cooperation between these two trade union centers was evaluated as successful and relevant for further strengthening of negotiating position, both in terms of current negotiating boards and for future period in which we expect 34 new laws to be adopted: new Labor law, Law and Pension and Disability Insurance, Law on social partnership and collective bargaining, and series of laws in the field of education, healthcare, state administration, local self-governance, and other. In this context, the Secretary of Socio-Economic Council, Čedanka Andrić, pointed out at the danger of non synchronized adoption of laws, whereby in case of such non-synchronization of Labor law and Law on social partnership and collective bargaining, the collective bargaining would not be legally covered and regulated.

Problem that came with the cessation of application of all collective agreements on 29 January this year was somewhat alleviated with the conclusion of collective agreements in public sector, although real sector still remains without any collective agreement, and the bargaining is at its start. President of Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, Ljubisav Orbović, pointed out that it is definitely a positive outcome that the collective agreements in public sector are signed, particularly in the field of utilities, which is the first of the sort at the level of the branch. The effects of these agreements will be evaluated in the forthcoming period as well as in practice. He also emphasized insufficient presence of trade unions in media, particularly in case of any success.

As for the conclusion of collective agreements with the employers, a major number of employers have already signed them, while the small and medium enterprises face big challenges. According to the Executive secretary of UGS NEZAVISNOST, Zlata Zec, even the collective agreements concluded with the multinational companies may be objected in terms of calculation of salaries. It was pointed out the neoliberal concept of market economy is present in the national economy, supported by the state and government, which significantly affects the negotiating position of trade unions and exerts enormous pressure on them. Problem also lies in small private (yellow) trade unions, which are, when needed, given the status of representation, what additionally reduces the negotiating position.

ILO Convention 154, related to collective bargaining, which was not ratified by Serbia, is important as it promotes collective bargaining at all levels, primarily in productive economic activities, for all employers and all groups of workers and in all economic activities, including in state administration. Concomitantly, Article 3 of the Convention could produce a conflict between competencies of trade unions and councils of workers, which could, according to the legal advisor in UGS NEZAVISNOST, Dragica Mišljenović, affect the rules and procedures applicable to collective bargaining. A definitely important provision in the Convention is that the undertaken measures in terms of stimulation of collective bargaining will not be determined or applied in a way that reduce the freedom of collective bargaining. Convention will be considered at a permanent working body for legislation of the Socio-Economic Council, and following the amended Study on collective bargaining, the work on drafting Law on confirmation will begin, when all relevant institutions and social partners will be consulted in terms of reasons for ratification.

It is the opinion of the participants in the Round table that the topic of collective bargaining and agreements is a very current topic, and that the representatives of two representative trade union centers should continue meeting and discussing current issues, particularly in the forthcoming period, marked with the announcement that a series of laws in the field of labor will be adopted.