Meeting of the Network of economic experts from the Western Balkan trade unions, SARAJEVO, 7 – 8 December 2017

A meeting of economic experts “The most recent development of labour markets, institutions and economic growth, TU policy proposals for change”, from the Western Balkan trade unions was held on 7 – 8 December 2017 in Sarajevo. This was a regular activity within the PERC programs and projects, financially supported by the Swedish trade unions “Union to Union”. Experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro participated in the meeting. Experts from Kosovo Albania were not able to take part due to objective reasons and will be approached separately.

Professor Bruno Sergi – ETUI, a permanent mentor of the Network of economic experts, Evelyn Astor – ITUC Economic and Social Policy Officer, and Anton Leppik – PERC Executive Secretary provided significant professional support. KSBiH Vice-president – SSSBiH President, Ismet Bajramović, participated in the opening session, and he wished welcome and successful work to the participants on behalf of the host country trade unions.
Professor Bruno Sergi provided an overview of the situation in Europe and beyond, main trends and economic perspectives, while participants presented developments of economies in the last years. Special attention was put on national programmes / actions in combatting corruption, the role of IFIs, American Chamber of Commerce and other actors in influencing economic and social policies. Evelyn Astor presented the topic “Global employment and social trends: what response for trade unions?”, where minimum wages were extensively discussed, along for parameters for the wage setting process, good and bad models and experiences, as well as the need for trade union strategy on minimum wage, both at national and regional level. This was intensively commented and debated by the participants. To that end, experts and their respective trade unions will analyse the situation in their respective countries and will provide their proposals aimed at defining common parameters for determining the minimum wage.
Based on the presentations and discussions, following challenges in all the Western Balkan countries were identified. They are:
- high unemployment rates;
- inequality, weak or inadequate social protection;
- modest GDP growth, which is not reflected in the wage growth, which would be sufficient for decent life;
- non-harmonisation of parameters, non-existence of a good formula for determining a minimum wage;
- significant share of informal labour;
- inadequate taxation systems, which do not favour the formalisation of labour and economic growth;
- insufficient functionality of the labour market institutions and control mechanisms, inefficient labour inspectorates, insufficient number of labour inspectors;
- mistrust of general population into institutions, presence of corruption;
- migration of young people to the countries of Western Europe and consequent ‘brain drain’;
- weakening of the trade union position in social dialogue, weakening of collective bargaining and inability or difficulties surrounding the conclusion of collective agreements;
- influence of the international financial institutions (IMF, World Bank), and American Chamber of Commerce in some countries ( mostly negative) , accepting of various conditions by the governments in order to get new loan tranches.

The next steps:

Participants recognised the relevance of the Network, continuation of the regional, bilateral and cooperation among experts and trade unions at the national level, all aimed at strengthening of the trade union capacities, use of good practices, and also the development of the common strategies related to different matters.
In a view of expected Summit on the integration of the Balkans in EU, scheduled to take place in May 2018 in Bulgaria, the trade unions economists committed to develop a joint policy document on common challenges and union priorities.
The outcomes of this meeting will also feed into the forthcoming SEER publication, which will touch upon many of the topics discussed in the meeting. To inform this work, the economists agreed to send a written contribution summarizing the economic and social situation in their respective countries They will send some feedback on the minimum wage paper scoping paper that was prepared by the ITUC in advance of the meeting.
This activity was organised by ITUC/ PERC Office in Sarajevo. Working languages were BSCM and English.

Global employment and social trends: what response for trade unions?- Evelyn Astor
Working conditions in supply chains- Evelyn Astor
Development of economy in previous years- Republic of Serbia- Zoran Ristic, TUC Nezavisnost
Economic growth, Montenegro
Economic situation in FBiH
Overview of the situation in Europe and beyond, main trends and perspectives
Economic situation in RS