Serbia: Interview with leader of striking postal workers’

Below we publish an interview with Zoran Pavlovic, President of the Independent Trade Union of Postal Workers. Postal workers in Serbia have been on strike since last week, over a variety of issues. The publicly-owned company is denying the workers their basic rights and took action against trade union activists. The struggle takes place as Serbia face regional elections in the capital Belgrade and likely national elections, as well. A strike victory could offer a significant blow against the Vucic government and its anti-working class policies.

Postal workers in Serbia went on strike this week? What is the struggle about?

As years went by workers became more and more poor. In last three years, respect for our working rights, guaranteed by laws and the constitution of Republic of Serbia, as well as via collective agreements, are endangered even more than usual. This is one of key reasons why we started the protests. The other reason is that we (as trade unionists and workers) were and are being ignored by the general manager, Mira Petrovic.

The main reason for the maltreatment of our trade union is that since our foundation in 2006, we always retained a critical view of management, regardless of the political parties were in power. Unfortunately, there is a non-written rule in Serbia that parties in the executive branch rule the public companies and dispose of public property as if it is their own. Often they name incompetent party members in positions reserved for experts and people with experience.

These reasons, as well as our roles as trade unionists, motivated us to oppose and resist that kind of behavior with all legal means that are on our disposal.
What are the main problems with the company and what are your demands?

Our demands are related to the most of the material problems and working problems of postal workers.

* Abolishing the suspension acts for 47 workers that were illegally punished by three months suspension from work.

Almost fifty workers got suspended because they protested in a public place, in their own free time. They gathered in front of the main postal center, to protest, were filmed by CCTV, and later management suspended them. Four are trade union officials. They all are honest, hard-working people, with families to feed, and the majority of them have worked in the Serbian postal system for decades. Some of them have large families to support, sick children or relatives.

* Emergency dismissal of Mira Petrovic from the position of acting general manager of the Serbian postal company, because her term in office expired months ago.

Acting general manager, Mira Petrovic, was appointed by PUPS (party of retired and pensioners) that is in coalition government with Serbian Progressive Party. Her term expired on 12 September this year. She is the core of many problems. She is not competent to perform managerial duties, and the sole reason she is appointed is membership and loyalty to the PUPS party. She acts as if the Serbian postal company is her private property, uses the company for political promotion, employing party members, financing the PUPS party and their allies and coalition partners.

We prepared a criminal charges against acting general manager Mira Petrovic.

* Income rise for the amount of real working hours over the last three years.

The Serbian postal company is a public company, not dependent on the budget of the Republic of Serbia, and is financed via its own income and work in the market. We are one of the most successful companies in Serbia, profits wise, but the workers incomes do not follow the business success.
On the contrary; workers incomes were lowered and workers made more poor, year after year. We estimated that the income drop over the last three years was around 14%. Adding to it, the government lowered incomes by an additional 10% as part of the austerity measured programme agreed with the IMF and ECB.
Before the cuts, a postal worker’s income was within the national average, but now it is significantly below the average salary.

A few months ago, the government raised incomes by 10%, thoughout the public sector, but did not raise salaries for postal workers, which additionally enraged workers.

* The responsibility of mid and top management for suspensions, pressures, threats to the workers and trade union activists.

Management enacted a ban of the trade union organizing in the postal company. Five out of eight members of a strike committee were suspended, and are not allowed to enter in any building or office of the Serbian postal company. Management stopped a strike being called according to the law.

* The dismissal of the president and members of the supervision committee because of neglect of duty.

The supervision committee is a body of five members, one of which is meant to be a representative of the workers. It is unacceptable that the workers’ representative, Goran Djeric, is, at the same time, a member of the top management of the company.

* All leased workers, and workers with temporary work agreements, are to be fully employed in the company.

These workers work for much lower income than average for the position hold. They do not have health and retirement insurance or paid annual leave .

* All workers that are employed fully, but signed a temporary contract, are to be fully employed with contracts that do not state a termination date.

The status of workers are meant to improved over time, regarding to the security of keeping the job. Yet out of 900 temporarily workers, even with the government’s intervention, management hired only 586 to this day. Since the law states that worker can be hired temporarily for two years maximum, after which time he/she are to be fully employed or laid off, we estimated there are174 workers that are working on temporary agreements for more than two years.
* We demand that the company hire more workers in technical roles.

Many working positions are understaffed. Because of that, many workers could not and cannot still use paid (end even non-paid) annual leave, which is a right guaranteed by law. Days that belong to the annual leave are, in turn, transformed to be “days off”, which is illegal. Workers build up a number of “days off” but, after three years, all those earned “days off” are erased.

Workers are afraid to start a lawsuit against the company, even when they know that they can clearly win the appeal.

* Establishment of negotiations between workers and their representatives, on one side, and management, on the other side, with respect to the principle of equality.

We are prevented from having negotiations with the employer. Our trade union is treated unequally, and access to vital information on company management and success is denied to us. We were forced to ask for information via the office of the commissioner for information of public importance. On many occasions, we asked to meet with management, and acting general manager, Mira Petrovic. She arranged a meeting with our trade union on October 19th, but only after we had protested for two days.

* Laying off all people that are formally retired, but are appointed managerial positions

In the Serbian postal company, people already in retirement are hired and appointed as mangers, directors and special councilors. This is done via special contracts. We object to this because there are many young experts that are currently unemployed that could be much better utilised.
How many workers are on strike at the moment and what developments took place before the strike?

The decision to strike and our demands remain. We called upon the bravest amongst our membership and amongst workers to strike. Some of them, even when under tremendous pressure and threats, decided to strike. Also, we decided to call upon all those who are afraid to strike to join us in the demonstrations and protest processions in Belgrade city center. We had more than 2,000 people holding protests. Unfortunately we lack funds to organize transport from many work places in Serbia to Belgrade.

Before we decided to protest, we appealed to the management and acting general manager for months, but to no result. We added her dismissal from duty to our demands, only after 47 workers were illegally suspended.

Who is organizing the protest and strike, and which unions are involved? Do you get support from other organizations?

The main organizer of the protest is the Independent Union of Postal Workers (Nezavisni sindikat poštanskih radnika), and we work closely with ‘Trade union solidarity of Serbian post’. Also the federation of independent trade unions of Serbia supports our protest. Support came from the Police Union of Serbia, the Military Union of Serbia, the independent union covering education in Vojvodina, the workers’ movement and ‘BORBA’, the student organization “7 demands”, Marxist and left-oriented activists and other organizations supporting workers’ struggle.

What role are the government and the political parties playing?

The fact that a political party in government uses the postal system as its own private property speaks volumes.

How can you win this struggle against the company and the government?

We must not give up. We call all the people to join us in our struggle. We use all legal means at our disposal. This fight is limited due to the nature of the system, but we are doing our best, and will not give up.

What can trade unionists and left activists around the world do to support your struggle?

It is imperative that you use your influence wherever you have it to publish, show and explain to people the endangered position of workers in the Serbian postal company, as well as of the general state of work and workers’ rights in Serbia

We call on all workers, trade unionists and left activists to show solidarity with the struggle of postal workers in Serbia, by sending protest resolutions to: 
Mira Petrovic, acting general manager
Prime minister, Ana Brnabic:
Minister for tourism, telecomunication and services Rasim Ljajic ;
Minister for regional development and coordination of Public Companies Milan Krkobabic (PUPS);
Ministry for work, employment, war veterans and social issues;

And copies to:

Support can be sent to independent trade union of postal workers president, Zoran Pavlovic at mobile number: (international code) +381646651087
Model protest resolution 

To Prime minister, Ana Brnabic; Minister for tourism, telecomunication and services; Minister for regional development and coordination of Public Companies; Ministry for work, employment, war veterans and social issues;.

I have been informed by the CWI and the Serbian activist group, Borba, about the mistreatment of workers at the Public Enterprise Post of Serbia. The sacking and suspension of trade unionists for organizing within the company and protesting for better working conditions represents a fundamental attack on basic workers‘ rights. We strongly condemn the suspension of 47 workers for protesting in public places, as well as the suspension of five members of the strike committee.

We stand in solidarity with the independent union of postal workers. It is outrageous that workers are facing suspension for protesting and asking for essential improvements, like higher wages, fair working contracts and more employees to manage the workload. The demands of the independent postal workers union are completely justified and we demand their immediate implementation. We will inform the public and media and keep them updated about developments.

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November 2017