news 22 Jan 13

General Strike Falters in Bosnian Serb Entity

A threatened general strike by public sector workers in the Republika Srpska, in support of a raise in basic labour rates, has only partially succeeded.

Ratka Babic
Banja Luka

Bosnian Serb public sector workers went on partial strike on January 21. But the threatened general strike was not carried out in all parts of Republika Srpska, the mainly Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ranka Misic, head of the entity's Trade Union Association, said the strike went ahead after negotiations failed on Sunday with the entity government on raising the basic working hour rate, which is the basis for determining civil servants' salaries.

The Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska, Aleksandar Dzombic, said unions had rejected the government's proposal to permit a salary cut of 10 per cent, prescribed in the 2013 budget, until June, and then reconsider the issue.

Late last year Republika Srpska unions announced a general strike if the government did not increase the working hour rate from 100 KM [51 euro] to 110 KM [56 euro].

Unions said the increase was needed to offset the 10-per-cent cut in public sector wages foreseen in the 2013 budget for the Republika Srpska.

Stevan Milic, head of the educational union, confirmed that strike action took place in 130 primary and secondary schools and 24 faculties in Republika Srpska.

Pupils and students were sent home on Monday and, as of Tuesday, only "minimal work processes" would be maintained, meaning shorter classes.

Milic complained that striking school staff had been exposed to various kinds of pressures, including physical attacks in some cases.

Sinisa Petkovic, of the judicial union, said that more than 70 per cent of judicial and penal institutions in the Republika Srpska were on strike, and the action would go on until the government offered an acceptable solution.

However, a significant number of public servants continued to work as usual, which trade unionists interpreted as a result of a strong pressure from the government.

Tomislav Vrhovac, head of the public service union, said that workers’ dissatisfaction would not be eliminated by threats and force.

The least rate of participation in the strike has been recorded among the police, which Dusko Jandric,  of the police union, said was a consequence of direct threats.

Jandric said the "minimal work process" for the police had been formulated in such a way that all employees were effectively forced to come to work, which he added was illegal.  

Unions have called a government decision on the rates of minimal work process illegal and unconstitutional, and are mulling seeking a constitutional and legal evaluation of the decision before the entity's Constitutional Court.

Following the adoption of 2013 budget, the entity government has said that there are no funds available to increase working hour rates. But it has called for continued negotiations on the subject.

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