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news 15 Jul 14

Serbia Unions Seek Referendum on Labour Law

Protesting unions say if their demands for changes to the controversial new Labour Act are not met, they will collect enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue.

BIRN, Tanjug, Beta
Belgrade

A leading union activist in Serbia said trade unions would call a general protest for Thursday, when parliament is due to adopt a controversial new Labour law.

"We tried to talk to the authorities and democratically resolve these disputes but they failed because someone wants to show how powerful they are and how people are irrelevant," Orbovic said, addressing protesters in Belgrade on Tuesday.

Several hundred unionists answered a call to protest in front of parliament on Tuesday to demonstrate dissatisfaction over the likely passage of the new Labour Act as parliamentarians opened their discussion of the bill.

Orbovic said unions on Tuesday put several demands to the government related to the draft Labour law. These include resolving the status of companies in restructuring, ensuring the payment of minimum wages, validating health cards and implementing social programs.

If the government fails to meet their demands, unions will start collecting signatures for a referendum on changing the bill, he added.

"We need to collect 100,000 signatures [for a referendum], but I expect we will have half a million in a short period of time," Orbovic added.

The government adopted a three-piece legislative package on labour, pensions and disability insurance and reconstruction in the aftermath of recent floods on July 12.

Union representatives protested in front of the headquarters of the government throughout the session, carrying banners reading, "Against [Prime Minister Aleksandar] Vucic's Reforms with All Our Might."

"Those are not reform laws, but laws that undermine the rights of employees in Serbia. Those laws are being adopted automatically, without any agreement or consent," Orbovic said on Saturday.

Unions, the employers' association and government representatives were all part of a working group tasked with drafting the law.

However, they disagree over collective agreements - the contracts between management and unions that regulate the duties and terms of workers and employers in the workplace.

Unions want collective agreements applied to all workplaces. However, under the draft legislation, they will only apply to firms run by members of the Union of Employers, which covers only about 5 per cent of employers, unions say.

After the government adopted the law last Saturday, the Finance Minister, Lazar Krstic, resigned, citing differences with the Prime Minister over economic reforms.

A previous version of the draft Labour Law stirred up controversy during the winter and resulted in the resignation of the Economy Minister, Sasa Radulovic.

He was pushing for more dramatic changes in employment legislation that the government was not ready to make.

Early parliamentary elections were called soon after, resulting in a landslide victory for Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party.

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