BLIC, Nenad Jacimovic 30 January 2011
We have signed a job contract for work on the construction site in Russia; we were given the airplane tickets and were very optimistic upon our departure. But everything went wrong as soon as we arrived to Sochi. They took away our passports at once and we were given the photocopy which was supposed to be used only for moving around in the town. Six of us were accommodated in small rooms; there were no signs of TV sets and refrigerators which were promised earlier. We worked 12 hours a day, except on Sundays when we used to work until lunchtime – says a man from Belgrade, who was captured with his colleagues in the Russian town for more than a month.
Even though they tried to go back to Serbia since mid December, only last week they reached Belgrade airport. This construction worker says that their hell began a year ago.
– I lost my job and found the advertisement by chance. Everything seemed reliable and only in Sochi I realized that this mediator was an ordinary crook. Of course, nothing was like we agreed earlier. Since January 2010 the company “Novi Gorod” for which we have been working, started to be late with payments and by December they owed an average of eight monthly salaries to each worker. They would only pay small advance payments and we never even got a medical insurance – says this young man.
Like the rest of construction workers this man has been through bad experiences and does not want to reveal his identity, hoping that he will succeed to get a hold of his 4.000 Euros that he claims the owner of the company “Novi Gorod” owes him.
– Around ten workers resigned in December; we expected that they would pay us off and send us back to Serbia. In the meantime, around 40 other workers were arriving to the company with tourist visas only and without any work permits or other documents. However, the manager offered to pay only the fifth of the debt and an airplane ticket to Serbia. He said that if we do not accept the offer he would evict us from the base where we were living. We refused the offer despite the fear that we could remain thrown out to the street in a foreign country. They gave us our passports back but they did not contain the original visa any more. We talked to the representatives of the Embassy in Moscow but nothing was resolved. We also submitted a report to the city inspection authorities here in Sochi but because they are corrupted our documentation was soon lost. In the end, under a lot of pressure due to the expiry of our documents and a difficult psychological condition we found ourselves in, we agreed to accept the reduced payments and went back to Belgrade. That man kept us in Russia for 40 days against our will because we did not want to go to Serbia without our money. I wonder if there is any law against these contemporary slaveholders who use the economic crisis to gain wealth by abusing other citizens – asks this man from Belgrade.
He says that more than 500 people mostly from Serbia experienced a similar situation in last five years.
– People in construction business, such as the owner of this company, developed their business on the ruins of “Energoprojekt” and continued to work on its leftovers –says this man.
Every month, numerous workers who go to Russia to work find themselves in such a position of almost a slave. According to non-official estimates of the businessmen who work in this country, currently there are around 8.000 workers from Serbia in construction sites in Sochi, while there are over 15.000 other workers in Moscow.
Radojica Sretenovic, Deputy Manager of the Commerce and Administration Bureau in the Serbian Embassy in Russia stated for “Blic” that there were no official data on how many workers from our country currently worked in Russia.
– It turns out that these people are deceived. The owners of the companies often cannot provide to pay them a salary but only the roundtrip ticket and a promise that they will get their money once – says Sretenovic.
– Founders of those companies are mostly Serbian nationals. Some companies are registered in Russia and others in Cyprus. Most of the owners come from Serbia and most of them founded firms on the grounds of the previous branches of former state companies which had businesses in USSR, and later in Russia. After that, they opened firms in Cyprus which is the point where the direct trace leading to Serbia disappears. In the meantime many of those companies closed businesses but there are constantly new ones being founded – says Sretenovic.
“Blic” source who works in Russia says that many companies get to run the business only with the mediation of Russian mafia which takes their percentage in return. Besides, it is not rare that bribed leading local authority figures turn a blind eye for all irregularities on the side of the owners.
A fifty year old man who used to work in Niznevartovsk for the company “ITSC Limited” does not want to reveal his name because he is afraid to. However, he says that the company never paid him and his colleague the 8.000 and 17.000 Euros that they have earned respectively.
– There are around 80 people who are chasing my boss for money. Workers never receive a roundtrip ticket so that they can be kept completely dependant on company owners. Some people try to go home by train. The trip from Siberia can last up to 10 days. Sometimes it happens that they are taken off the train at the Ukraine border and they have to work for the peasants so that they could continue the trip to Serbia. When I was there, a group of Macedonians fled during the night. They waited until they received an advance payment, jumped on the train and dispersed throughout Russia to try to earn the money to go back home. There were really some horrible cases. People were hungry and did not have a place to wash themselves… My case was not that bad. My boss earned millions, had a yacht in Montenegro, apartments and villas in Belgrade and he exploited us for small money – says bitterly this ex construction worker.
Representatives of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade say that they have no information about frauds towards Serbian citizens and note that we should talk to the Serbian Embassy in Moscow.
A man still had the SFRY passport
Radojica Sretenovic says that many Serbian citizens work in Russia without any permit. – Some live in Russia for years and even come to us with invalid passports. There was a case that a man who works in Siberia came to the Embassy with a SFRY passport. Deceived people, who are certainly numerous, can submit a report only to the Russian authorities because they work for Russian employers who only have Serbian origins. Nobody comes to us before, so that we can check the companies they want to work for. They only come to us when problems already arise. Of course, a number of companies whose owners are Serbian citizens work very successfully and fully comply with their obligations towards workers – says Sretenovic.
Job offering agencies recruit people
According to the information “Blic” has been able to acquire, there are agencies whose representatives travel throughout Serbia and recruit workers for Russian construction sites and companies. Agencies are virtually reselling workers, keeping a percentage for themselves. Construction workers in Russia are paid 5 USD per hour, and agencies take ten or even 12 USD from the Russian companies.