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News 17 Nov 16

Serbian Soldiers Threaten Protest Over Low Wages

The Serbian defence minister called on army members to show solidarity in a ‘tough economic situation’ as the union representing military personnel said it plans to stage the first-ever public protest by soldiers in the country over poor working conditions and low wages.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian Army soldiers during a parade. Photo: Beta/Branislav Bozic

After members of the Military Union of Serbia announced a street protest over working conditions and low salaries, Serbian defence minister Zoran Djordjevic told BIRN in a written statement that members of the army must show more understanding for the tough economic situation in Serbia.

“Members of the army must share the fate of all other citizens and accept the fact that we are working to improve their positions,” said Djordjevic.

The minister questioned the legality of the protests, adding that that the Law on the Army, Article 14.5, forbids professional soldiers from holding strikes.

Members of the Military Union of Serbia said they will stage a street protest in their free time on November 27 in Belgrade, the first such protest in Serbian history.

The union president, Novica Antic, told BIRN that the soldiers will not "strike", however, since they will remain in their positions but will be protesting in their free time, which he said they are entitled to do by law.

“The [defence] ministry is ignoring the existence of a representative union with over 7,000 members. We are still waiting for a reply from minister for defence, after we called for talks last year. Now we are forced to go out onto the streets,” said Antic.

“More than 75 per cent of people employed in the army have salaries below the average in Serbia [around 420 euros]. People are turning into welfare cases. More and more people are leaving the army because of it, which is undermining the operative ability of the army,” he said.

Antic claimed that the ministry was breaking Serbian law, which says all regulations concerning work must be discussed with representative unions.

He said that the union was challenging all the decisions made by ministry since they were made without consent or dialogue with the union.

“We have waited for seven months for the verification of our [union] representation, which the law said must be done in 15 days. We want to discuss collective contracts with the ministry, to which we have a right by law,” Antic stated.

However, minister Djordjevic said that protests are not the right way to “extort” something from the state, adding that the government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and the ministry of defence were preoccupied with achieving an “overall increase of living standards” for all citizens, including members of the army.

Djordjevic declined to answer questions about whether the ministry had held any meetings with the union and by what exact measures the position of the soldiers could be enhanced.

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