Marking of the International Women's Day 8th March
Why is the state pasive while my labour rights are being violated?
Marking of the revolutionary, mancipatory and anti-fashist holiday was organized by Reconstruction Womens Fund and Network of Women in black on Friday, 8th of March in Belgrade on the Republic Square with a performance, street march and programe in Center for Cultural Decontamination.
As in previous yers, this year we reminded the public that women's labour rights are endangered, that women work more working hours and earn less, that women are the first on the lists for releases, "Law is just a ink on paper, I want to live from my work".
More then 200 people participated in the march in Belgrade. Also, on the same day, marches under the same slogans were held in Novi Sad, Prijepolje, Nis, Vranje, Leskovac, Pirot, Novi Becej, Vlasotince, Krusevac and Kraljevo. For this occasion we collected the perosnal stories of women workers which testify to which extent womens rights in Serbia are endangered.
Statement of a woman worker from Uzice
I work in Uzica's Health Centre and I am one of 90 doctors, a dental technician from Uzica's Centre for Health Studies, and who (due to dental reforms) is defined as "subcontracted personnel".
Because of this, I sought psychiatric help.
I recently told my colleagues about it and I learned a remarkable fact: six of my coworkers have also been seeing a psychiatrist.
We received 65% of our September salary, and the Centre paid for the first part of our November paycheque through its own funds. Of the 13 unallocated employees in the Health Centre, seven of us now go to a psychiatrist because of occupational stress. We are on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Anxiety causes our insomnia... The general diagnosis for all of us is depression.
The law does not recognize "subcontracted personnel", but that is what we are.
We come in the morning, we put on our robes, but we are not allowed into the office, so we spend the day in the waiting rooms.
We have yet to be fired, and I am afraid that that is their goal.
For us there is rarely a paycheque, but our colleagues from other departments receive extra income during regular working hours, which I do not think exists anywhere else in Serbia.
Statement of a woman worker from Leskovac
My name is Ivana and I am from Leskovac.
I worked for 22 years. In my Employment Record it states that I have worked for 5.
For the past 6 years I have been a contract worker who "is a temporary worker for temporary positions".
My contract was terminated immediately upon my return from sick leave. I worked the night shift. Of course, it was night work that was unpaid. The hourly pay was below any definition of minimum wage. A lot of things have happened in the past 20 years: the ability to be terminated without cause, the ability to be terminated immediately due to "inappropriate language" directed at your boss, being punished for the appeal that I filed due to working 15-16 hour days, unpaid overtime hours, etc. When I notified the Department of Labour, I was told that I had no rights because I signed an agreement for termination without cause, a document that, at the time, I did not notice.
I went to the PIO [Pension and Disability Insurance] to check my employment status. I was told that the owner paid only for my social insurance and that I could not sue him because the company had changed its name. I could talk for days about numerous humiliations on the basis of being a female. I have been asked if I was married, whether I planned to have children, etc. I am not complaining for not being young (candidates for job interviews are preferably between 20 and 25 years of age). I am trying to keep my sanity and my dignity, and I hope that one day, my rights as a worker will finally be recognized.
Statement of a woman worker with University degree
My name is Jelena.
Even though I am a university graduate, I work in a children's clothing store because there are no employment opportunities in my town, I am a single mother, and I do not have many available options. My boss Maja promised me a €100 paycheque and 10% monthly commission, and she told me that she would sign a contract but perhaps not right away. I worked for two months and still no news about the contract or the 10% commission. Twice she gave me €100 cash. Around that time, my three year old son became ill. The doctors did not know what was wrong with him so I had to be in the hospital with him for one week while they ran numerous tests on him. Thankfully it was nothing serious, and I quickly returned to work. One day when I was reading a book at the counter, work inspectors entered the store. I was really scared, and out of fear of losing my job, I told them that Maja was my sister and I was replacing her while she was away. Maja told me to say that if the inspectors ever came. One inspector looked at me and said "Jelena, this is a small town and I know Maja is not your sister. We will speak with Maja". I was ashamed and shaking from fright. I then called Maja and told her what happened. She told me not to worry and that after my shift we would go for coffee to discuss what had happened. Once we went for coffee, she explained that she could no longer keep me as a permanent employee because now she would have problems with future inspections. She added that since I have a child, there is always a level of uncertainty with children, so she will look for someone who is single and less likely to be absent from work. She gave me my paycheque for that month, my third month. I wanted to use a part of that paycheque to pay the last installment for a pair of shoes I bought from her store for my child. She did not accept it, however, and told me that they are her gift to me. I was humiliated and I felt miserable, but I could not decline that offer since I was desperate, unemployed, and had nothing with which to support my child.
I do not know if there was a follow-up to the inspection, but Maja's store is problem free and still open. When I see Maja, she acts as if nothing happened.
Statement of a Roma woman worker
My name is Ljubica.
I am a Roma.
I was contacted for an interview at a private firm once. When I arrived at the director's office, he immediately inspected me from head to toe. He did not say anything, he just asked me "since when did Gypsies stop becoming singers, dancers, or soothsayers? Is everything you wrote in your CV true? Do you really have a secondary education? Since when did Gypsies stop lying?".
Before I left I asked him if he would be contacting me, and whether I can expect to be hired since I do have a secondary education. He replied "do not count on it, because your place as a Gypsy is not at major functions, and you are not for this line of work".
Statement of a woman worker from Nis
My name is Marija.
I am from Nis and I am 19 years old.
After completing high school, my parents could not afford a secondary education for me. My only option was to work. My first job was in a boutique, where the owner promised to pay me 10 000 RSD. After two months, I received half in cash, and the rest in merchandise - undergarments and other rags [clothing]. I thought things would change but the miserable pay continued to arrive late. My boss no longer even mentioned the "rags" but rather he asked me to go to bed with him. That was the moment when I left the boutique in tears. I have experienced this kind of humiliation in two other boutiques, in one case with a female boss.
The real hell was in a cafe where I worked as a barista, washed dishes, and cleaned the floors. My boss told me that instead of paying me, he would reward me with sex.
I never mentioned these things to my parents because I am afraid they will retaliate.
I am currently unemployed. I hope to find decent work soon so that I can save money to go university to study economics.
Statement of a woman worker from Leskovac
My name is Milena. I worked for a factory in Leskovac called Yura. When I was hired in Yura, I did not have adequate training for making installations. We were given three days to observe how workers who were hired before us made them, and during that time we were not allowed to touch anything. After a few observational days, they made a new assembly line with a new device for installations, which were new to Serbia, and no one in the country had experience operating. The new employees and I were to begin working immediately despite the fact that the previous three days we were observing other machinery altogether. Even the Koreans who came to show us how to use the devices were uncertain about these new ones, so each one showed us something entirely different. They were extremely agitated that we could not operate the device properly. In fact, we were expected to listen to and do as each individual said, but the problem was that there was no correspondence between any of the demonstrations. It came to the point where each individual was telling us that the previous one was wrong and that we ought to do it as he says. Before that, they were yelling at us and at times they even gestured with their fists. The Korean visitors spoke neither English nor Serbian, and in the beginning we did not even have a translator; their yelling frightened us to the bone. We felt like we were in labour camps or doing forced labour. The factory manager, Dejan Popovic, called the workers sheep, made obscene hand gestures, yelled, insulted and intimidated us in order to receive gratification from his Korean bosses. I was on a 6 month contract. The entire 6 months I worked overtime, usually 10 or more hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays. When one of the managers gave us a Saturday off - upon noticing how exhausted we were - he was fired on the spot. We worked approximately 60 hours a week. We were not allowed to go to the bathroom or drink water, regardless of the fact that our water bottles were only a few metres away from us. We would be written-up immediately for every mistake. During the 10-12 hour working day, our only break was a half hour break for breakfast. We worked without gloves or safety gear, so our hands were constantly wounded. Cases of employees fainting or vomiting were numerous, not only because of exhaustion or chronic insomnia, but also because of the toxins we were inhaling from the chemicals used to insulate the wires. Doctor's appointments were banned and they lead to termination. There was no medic on site, and whenever an ambulance was called for a worker that fell ill, that worker was always fired afterwards. A woman who missed work because of injuries at the hands of her husband who tried to kill her was called into work a few days following the incident. She came to work in order to avoid being fired. She had stab wounds and was wrapped in gauze. Another woman, who had third degree burns and underwent an operation, was called into work 7 days later and threatened with termination. She came and worked an even more demanding job that required her to use her wounded and bandaged hands.
I had begun to faint, vomit, I got a stomach hernia, and my liver had to be broached. I went on sick leave for 15 days because the doctor wanted to run a number of tests. After that, my six month contract was not renewed, much like most of the other employees.
They were constantly accepting new workers and letting go of the old ones, for the latter would often develop depression or various types of mental disorders due to continual stress, insomnia, and exhaustion.
We were never adequately paid for our overtime work. Not even the work inspectors could not determine to what level we were exploited. It is difficult to prove instances of abuse without proper documentation from the employer, evidence from the specific work period, or lists of salaries. We were forced to sign ordinary documents, without any verifications/stamps, which stated we agreed to work overtime.
Statement of a woman worker from small town in southeastern Serbia
My name is Nena and I am an expert in the field of art.
I live in a small town in southeastern Serbia.
I began volunteering in a cultural institution in my town and I was to volunteer there for 12 months. In the beginning, everything seemed great, the director of the institution constantly praised my work, and I worked as hard as I could with much enthusiasm.
After one month of work, I found myself alone with the director, and he grazed my hair with his hand. I took that as a paternal gesture. I told one of my coworkers and she told me not to allow him to do that because he had a history of abuse. It was following a period of two months of the director's praises that the sexual harassment began.
He proposed that I posed nude for some pictures, he hugged me, he touched my body (without any consent from my end). He suggested that I should be with him, and he made himself out to be a prosperous and wealthy man, with whom I would never have monetary issues, and who could hire me with greater ease if I was with him. He suggested that I go on vacation with him, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I had to remind him that I was hired as an art expert, not an escort.
From then on he was very rough towards me - his swearing and insults became a part of my daily work environment. I told him that he was my mentor and that he had no right to treat me that way. There were witnesses there that had wanted to inform the police and hire a lawyer, but I told them not to for fear that my contract would be terminated. He threw things around the office, and he began to yell and swear.
I was frightened. I took everything really hard, I stopped eating, and my hands began to shake...
That is when I contacted prosecutors, but they only reacted after my position as an intern was terminated. The director fired me after I refused to sleep with him and "make a beautiful baby, since my biological clock was ticking". I was handed a breach of contract on the grounds that the intern did not do her job, that she caused a strife in the team, and so on.
I began a lawsuit which is currently in its sixth year. Even on trial, he continued to insult me, he told me I was ugly, that "I am not attractive, and he - as an expert in aesthetics - was surely able to choose someone better". Though I sued him, the judge is the director's friend, and he ruled in his favour. At the time I had to defend myself and his insults during the trials were never recorded. He accused me of slander but the charges were dropped.
Now I am "allergic" to a man's touch, no matter how friendly, because it reminds me of the director.
Statement of a woman worker from Belgrade
My name is Snezana and I am from Belgrade.
I have been a single mother since 2002.
When I notified my employer that I was pregnant, it was received as something nasty that I had done. There was gossip along the way - you're only in your second month of pregnancy, you can resolve the issue. In my seventh month, I was fired. Allegedly it was because I failed the state exam, but I know it was because of my pregnancy and the fact that I was a single parent.
I finally began working again when my daughter turned 4. As a single mother, social assistance was not enough to make ends meet. The bureau did not grant me any privileges or benefits, not to mention how much time and energy went into gathering the necessary documentation in order to receive child care benefits. Society discriminates against single parents, but I believe that it is not something to be ashamed of, and that this is something two-parent families can and should address the state/state institutions about.
Statement of a woman worker from Belgrade
My name is Suzana and I am 32 years old.
I am from Belgrade.
I applied for 13 different jobs in the past three months. The minute the employer sees me, they do not ask about my education or qualifications. The eye rolls say it all. It has been this way for two years. Some employers have even told me directly that because of my weight they cannot employ me, even if I am qualified to carry out the job requirements. Two years ago I had a trial period for an administrative position, but despite my commitment and dedication to the job, another woman was hired to fill the position - a thinner woman. As if it is not painful enough to hear the insults strangers say over their shoulder. My problem is a medical problem by nature but employers do not understand that; they believe that it is my own fault.