Migrant workers win fight against discrimination

Migrant workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina have finally won the right to claim unemployment benefit in Slovenia. This has been denied them for years, despite the fact they have always been required to pay contributions to unemployment insurance. On 2 September 2011, the amendments to the agreement on social insurance between Slovenia and Bosnia came into force. These amendments also give migrant Bosnian workers more rights and aim to reduce discrimination against them.

Background

The Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) had protested for a long time about the unfair treatment of migrant workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and from Macedonia. These workers found it impossible to get unemployment benefit, although they were still required to pay contributions to unemployment insurance on the same basis as all other employees. The unions attacked, in particular, Article 5 of the Social Security Agreement between Slovenia and Bosnia which required any Bosnian migrant workers claiming unemployment benefit to have a permanent residence permit. To get the permit Bosnian migrants had to show evidence of five years of uninterrupted residence in Slovenia.

The protest led to the Ministry for Labour, Family and Social Affairs (MDDSZ) submitting draft amendments to the agreement in October 2009. Representatives of the Bosnian workers initially agreed with these. However, when complications arose over Article 5, the amendments were not signed.

Union steps up pressure

0n 22 July 2010 the ZSSS warned in a press conference that measures by the State to protect and improve the rights and living conditions of migrant workers were inadequate. The union called for a change in the law, an improvement of bilateral agreements among countries, and for the Government to speed up its actions in these areas.

The next day the ZSSS and one of its affiliated unions, the Construction Workers’ Union of Slovenia (SDGD), wrote an open letter to Slovenian President Borut Pahor and to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Ambassador in Slovenia, Zdravko Begović, appealing for them to end the discrimination against Bosnian workers, and for Article 5 to be changed.

Amendments signed

In December 2010, ministers from Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the amendments to the agreement on social insurance between the two countries. It means that Bosnian migrant workers in Slovenia can get unemployment benefit even if they have only a temporary residence permit. These amendments would end their discrimination in comparison with migrant workers from other so-called third countries.

Bosnian president acts to cut workers’ wait

After the amendments were signed, they had to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries. This was done by the Slovenian parliament in March 2011. However, there was a new Bosnian parliament which did not convene for several months because Bosnian political parties could not reach an agreement over the formation of a new government.

The President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zivko Budimir therefore decided on 15 June 2011 to put the amendments temporarily into force until a new Bosnian government can formally ratify it.

ZSSS intervenes again

After another nudge by the ZSSS on 25 August 2011, calling on the Slovenian Government to accept the decision of the Bosnian president, the amendments finally came into force on 2 September 2011.

Zdravko Bregović, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Slovenia, thanked ZSSS President Dušan Semolič for the support shown by the union to the Bosnian migrant workers. He stressed that, in resolving this issue, the ZSSS has the full support of the Bosnian Embassy.

Commentary

It took more than two years to end the discrimination in Slovenia against Bosnian migrant workers. During that time the global economic crisis enveloped Slovenia severely affecting the country’s construction sector. In May 2010 there were 75,652 foreign workers with valid work permits, 32,200 of them working in the construction sector. In June 2010 there were 75,262foreign workers with valid work permits, and 46,596 of these were from the countries of former Yugoslavia, with 27,518 workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. From the beginning of the crisis until October 2011 around 20,000 jobs were lost in the construction sector, many of them Bosnian workers. For them the amendments came into force too late.

Štefan Skledar, Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development

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