• 2020-11-25

Nataša Vučković at the Let Justice Rule Conference

Presentation held by the Center for Democracy Foundation’s Executive Director Nataša Vučković at the online conference entitled Let Justice Rule organised by the National Convention on the EU

For starters, let’s examine where we’re at in terms of Chapter 19. In May of this year, the RS Government adopted Action Plan (AP) for Chapter 19 - Social Policy and Employment, which is a screening prerequisite. Next to follow is Plan implementation, preparing a position from which to negotiate and currently, a matrix is being developed for monitoring AP application.

Why is this chapter important and in what way is it tied to rule of law? When we speak of Chapter 19, and when we add the chapter dedicated to education and science, and health of course, what we are in fact talking about is the social dimension of expansion. And in the processes of EU accession, this issue has somehow always been in the shadow of political criteria. However, as early as 2016/2017 we saw that the social dimension had regained importance in the EU, and the reason for this is that the austerity policy, as a response to the 2008 crisis, left grave consequences and disallowed for the implementation of the 2020 Agenda, an agenda to which Europe had been committed.

2017 The EU adopted the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was not applicable to candidate countries; however, these states were invited to act in line with said Pillar. Furthermore, the harmonisation process was evident, after all, through the adoption of the Employment and Social Policy Reforms Programme. We see that strategic reforms are also included in the Economic Reform Programme which relate to labour market reforms, which then relate to social inclusion and education, of course. We also see that the EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, among those six leading initiatives, also includes socio-economic development.

When we look at the structure of the new methodology, and it is still unclear as to whether Serbia will apply it, it is important to keep in mind that Chapters 19 and 26, social policy, employment policy, and education have been placed in cluster 3.

I think it’s important to emphasise that the Economic Investment Plan for the Western Balkans which was published this autumn, foresaw significant investments in innovation, health, education, culture, youth and sports. Great support was announced toward improving employment, health, social protection and increasing participation in the labour market, etc. We will see how this translates in terms of budget and programmes.

I would like to point out here the recommendations provided in May this year by the European Council, where the EU responds to the Economic Reforms Programme submitted by our Government in January 2020. The European Commission recommends that in business, including SMEs, Serbia must ensure everyone receive equal treatment, that it is necessary to avoid any approach which would create unequal treatment among different entities within the economic sphere. I mention this because the self-employed and micro-enterprises have been particularly affected by the COVID crisis and equal treatment of these entities is also being sought after. Not to mention how important the section on basic rights, the foundation of which is included in Chapter 23 and of course, all relevant to Chapter 19.

Another question, which is most important to the citizens of our country is this: Are existing rights applied? When we talk about Chapter 19, and whenever we speak to the people about their priorities, the question of how they are going to exercise their rights arises. According to reports and independent institutions, but also according to the population, the rights that are most often violated are the following: non-payment of wages to employees, discrimination on various grounds in employment and work, deprivation of large numbers of people who are working in the informal economy, major threats in terms of OH&S which occur frequently, not to mention the risk exposure of a large number of workers to the COVID-19 virus during the pandemic; then, we have new forms of work that are insufficiently regulated, such as insufficient regulation of remote work, i.e. work from home, etc.

We also see that the people do not turn to the institutions nearly enough, either because they are uninformed of the possibilities of protecting their rights, or they do not believe that they will be able to exercise their rights through these channels. The Serbian Ombudsman Report also mentions that the citizenry is simply insufficiently acquainted with the existing possibilities of protecting their rights via independent institutions, although both the Serbian Ombudsman and the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality receive the highest number of complaints in relation to work, and/or work-related violations, i.e. discrimination, non-payment of wages, OH&S, etc. And, another very important thing to mention, and for this I digress to the beginning, is that the workforce cannot count on quick protection in court proceedings because on average labour disputes take approx. five years to finalise and during this process the form of employment that these people have places them in a much more disadvantaged position than that of their employers, and the length of proceedings largely favours employers.

Center for Democracy Foundation


Nataša Vučković at the Let Justice Rule Conference