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Bosnia-Herzegovina unions demand living wages

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25 October, 2019Bosnia-Herzegovina must secure living wages and proper training for workers to ensure a skilled workforce for the manufacturing industries in the future, concluded union leaders at a seminar organized by IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union on 16-17 October in Sarajevo.

Manufacturing industries in Bosnia-Herzegovina employ more than 170,000 workers, of whom 38,000 work in the textile sector. More than 80 percent are women.

The country’s textile sector has grown in recent years, but with a legal minimum wage just above €200 per month, it still has among the lowest wages in South-East Europe.

Building trade union power and organizing more workers were highlighted as crucial for unions to ensure decent wages, good working conditions and establish stable collective bargaining systems.

A detailed mapping of factories and brands present in the country will form the basis for organizing plans. The brands include global framework agreement signatory Tchibo, ACT members C&A and Next, Adidas, Benetton, Calzedonia, Burberry and Nike.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union’s assistant general secretary, says:

“Our affiliates in Bosnia-Herzegovina are fighting for the respect of fundamental workers’ rights in a complex and hostile constitutional and institutional setup.They will continue to receive our solidarity and full cooperation in building union power. Together with industriAll Europe, we support their struggle to achieve decent wages and working conditions for all.”

The two textile workers’ unions have 5,000 paying members, and several non-paying members. The estimated unionization rate is around 30 per cent, which is higher than other countries in the region.

However, unions are organizing in a hostile environment.

“70 per cent of companies don’t have a union. Many small business owners see unions as an enemy and resist us organizing their workers,”

says Danko Ruzičić, president of the Trade Union of Textile, Leather and Shoe Industry Workers of Republika Srpska.

In 2015, the government pushed through a Labour Code as part of its reform agenda without consulting social partners. It declared existing collective agreements null and void, forcing renegotiation. At national level, a collective agreement was concluded, but entity-level negotiations proved hard to achieve.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is made up of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and  Republika Srpska. Bosnia-Herzegovina is made up of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and  Republika Srpska. Only in September 2018 did the textile union of the Federation reach a sectoral collective agreement covering all 26,000 workers. In Republika Srpska, 12,000 workers are still without the protection of a branch accord.

“We reached the agreement after tough negotiations. But because many workers get the same benefits without being union members, they don’t see why they should pay union dues from their meagre salaries,”

says Zlatibor Kojčič, president of the Trade Union of Textile, Leather, Footwear and Rubber of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The employers and the government recognise the challenge of providing quality jobs for young people, many of whom have already left the country for Western Europe.

“Our objective is to raise wages, but the brands have to raise their prices to suppliers to enable higher pay. Nobody wants companies to close. And we need to invest in education, skills, modernization and new technology,”

says Amir Medic, general secretary of the Textile, Footwear and Leather Association.

Luc Triangle, industriAll Europe’s general secretary says:

“IndustriAll Europe supports affiliates in Bosnia-Herzegovina calling for a clear timeline for their country´s accession path to the European Union. Bosnia-Herzegovina should not be the poorhouse of Europe where companies in the manufacturing industries benefit from the closeness to the European market but are unwilling to ensure European labour standards.”