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Lessons Learned and Guidelines for Improvement

The announced amendments to the Law on the Employment of Foreigners and the Law on Foreigners inspire hope that there will be an improvement in the protection of human and labour rights of workers of foreign origin in Serbia. That was one of the few positive conclusions from the expert meeting THE CASE OF INDIAN WORKERS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ANNOUNCED LAW CHANGES TO RELEVANT FOREIGNERS LAWS: Lessons Learned and Guidelines for Improvement, held on April 26, organized by NGO ASTRA.

At this experts meeting, a report on the case of workers from India was presented, made with the aim of providing precise and relevant facts that will be used for legal purposes, for advocacy work at the national level, but also as a relevant document for the monitoring mechanism of the International Labor Organization. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs – the Labor Inspectorate, trade unions, the Council of Europe, the International Labor Organization and the civil sector (with a focus on the field of labour, the fight against human trafficking and migration). The following spoke at the meeting: Mario Reljanović, research associate of the Belgrade Institute for Comparative Law; Dejana Spasojević Ivančić, lawyer-associate of ASTRA; and Jasmina Krunić, Head of Policy of ASTRA.

Jasmina Krunić opened the gathering and reminded those present of the chronology of events and the details of the case of labour exploitation of workers from India.

Mario Reljanović se u svom izlaganju bavio pravnom analizom položaja radnika iz Indije u Srbiji, nereagovanjem ili neadekvatnim reagovanjem institucija na ovaj slučaj, odricanjem od odgovornosti dave Srbije za nešto što se dešava na njenoj teritoriji i posledicama takvog tretmana ovog slučaja od strane nadležnih institucija, koje su vrlo brzo postale evidentne. Tom prilikom on je istakao:

In his presentation, Mario Reljanović dealt with a legal analysis of the position of workers from India in Serbia; the non-response or inadequate response of the Serbian institutions; the negation of responsibility of the Serbian government for something that happens on its territory; and the consequences of such treatment, which became evident soon. On that occasion, he pointed out:

  • That the contracts, signed by workers from India, almost had no article that complies with the domestic Labor Law (only he singled out 11 irregularities)
  • Serbia abolished the employer GP Nikolić as responsible for the treatment of Indian workers and declared the employer from Florida as competent. Reminder: a group of Indian workers, whose case is discussed in this report, signed work contracts with a company registered in the USA (Idea Capital LLC), which concluded an agreement on technical cooperation with a Serbian company (“GPD Nikolić” Kraljevo). The same person ran these two companies (Idea Capital LLC and GDP Nikolić). GPD Nikolic, as a subcontractor, agreed to certain construction works.
  • The contracts stated that most workers arrived in Serbia based on referral and movement through a company, for which the worker must be already employed in the same company and for which there is no evidence.
  • This kind of practice is dangerous, and it was seen soon in the case of the exploitation of workers from Vietnam engaged in the construction of the Linglong Factory, who were brought to Serbia according to the same principles.

Nevertheless, at the end of his presentation, Reljanović pointed out that the drafts of new laws on foreigners and the employment of foreigners provide an opportunity to stop this practice.

Dejana Spasojević Ivančić spoke about the status of the legal activities undertaken at the national level for the realization of the rights of Indian workers. Lawsuits, in this case, were initiated against the company Idea Capital LLC, registered in America; Unogradnja V. V. – contractors which engaged GP Nikolić as a subcontractor; the company Marera Construction – Marera Property Management acquired the company GP Nikolić from Kraljevo in March 2021. The integration of GP Nikolić formed a new division within the company Marera Property Management called Marera Construction; and the State of Serbia, bearing in mind that the case is about the execution of public works, for which the company GP Nikolić was engaged as a subcontractor.

All defendants, in general, disclaim liability.

A discussion followed the presentations. On that occasion, Jovan Protić, national coordinator of the International Labor Organization, addressed the audience. He announced that an appeal against the state of Serbia was also filed to ILO. The appeal is for violating 12 ILO conventions (8 of them are fundamental, according to Protić). Regarding this appeal, Protić stated that it was the most substantive appeal he had the opportunity to see in his career. Now up to the state of Serbia to provide counter-evidence or accept that there is a problem in implementing the Law and the work of the institutions − concluded Protic. Complaints and actions like this enter the profile of a country and affect its ranking in the business world.

The rest of the event was marked by an intense exchange of almost all present participants.

About the Report Indian Workers Exploited in the Serbian Road Construction Industry

In recent years, ASTRA has identified a significant number of victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation, which confirmed the trends and predictions of experts in this field. A novelty that deserves additional attention is the influx of foreign workers from India, Turkey, Pakistan, Vietnam, China and other countries to Serbia. They are mainly employed through various intermediaries, most often on construction sites, although in different industries. They work for minimal daily wages in inadequate, often life-threatening conditions. Sometimes these people work to satisfy their basic needs and live on promises while their residence and employment are not regulated.

In this sense, ASTRA’s work in 2020, among other things, was marked by a case of mass labour exploitation of workers from India in the construction industry in Serbia.

ASTRA prepared a comprehensive report on this case. The purpose of the report is to provide relevant factual and legal timelines to be used for legal and advocacy work nationally as well as through the ILO supervisory mechanism, to improve the institutional response to potential labour abuse and trafficking and to raise awareness of the policymakers and the public.

Cases of labour exploitation of foreign workers in Serbia have increased as Serbia courts foreign investment projects. This report discusses the case of a group of Indian workers contracted to work in the construction industry in Serbia. The workers signed employment agreements with a company registered in the U.S. (Idea Capital LLC), which had entered into an Agreement on Technical Cooperation with a Serbian company (“GPD Nikolić” Kraljevo) subcontracted to work on a specific section of the construction project. The same person directed these two companies. Workers experienced poor working conditions, salary non-payment, confiscation of personal documents, poor living accommodations, salary penalties for taking sick leave, and a lack of work permits, among other indicators of potential labour abuse and trafficking. The terms of the employment agreements as well as the workers’ working and living conditions, were illegal under Serbian Law and international indicators of labour abuse and trafficking. NGOs such as ASTRA and local unions got involved on behalf of workers, calling the Serbian institutions to act following their jurisdiction to protect workers’ rights. However, this case demonstrates the inaction of Serbian competent authorities. Despite extensive indicators of labour abuses, authorities did not properly investigate potential crimes. This report details the provisions of the employment agreements in violation of Serbian labour law. In addition, it outlines the workers’ circumstances which indicate coercion and forced labour. The report is based on the comprehensive review of all available documents and first-hand interviews with workers, as well as other relevant actors, such as union activists.



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