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Towards living wages in North Macedonia

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21 March, 2019Organising thousands of new workers to build union power for higher wages and better coverage of branch collective agreements were debated at a seminar for national and local textile union leaders on 12-13 March in Skopje, North Macedonia.

There are about 40,000 workers in the textile, clothing, leather and shoe industries in North Macedonia. IndustriAll-affiliated STKC has organized 4,000 of them, and there is considerable potential for union growth.

Therefore, the national seminar focused on training on organising and putting together an organising plan, based on a detailed mapping of the factories and brands present in North Macedonia. They include GFA brands Inditex, Esprit and ASOS as well as ACT members C&A, Next, Primark and PVH.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary said:

“About half of the ACT member brands, including three that have signed a global framework agreement with us, are sourcing from North Macedonia. All these brands have committed to help transform the way wages and working conditions are set in the textile, garment and footwear sector. We will use that brand leverage to help our affiliate strengthen union structures and bargaining power. There is a good base for achieving progress towards living wages and a sustainable textile industry in that country.”

Increasing labour costs in Asia have improved the competitiveness of South-East European countries, located close to European markets. But as Eva Ellereit, country director of German Friedrich Ebert Foundation put it, there is a lack of workforce as tens of thousands of young people have left the country in recent years due to low wages and poor working conditions.

Goran Reshevski from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy explained that the government had tried to address the problem by raising the gross minimum wage considerably to 280 euros per month. Hundreds of companies received state subsidies to partially cover increased costs over a transitional period.

Angel Dimitrov, president of the Organisation of Employers of Macedonia (ORM) said that brands need to increase prices to suppliers to enable payment of higher wages.

ORM has signed a general collective agreement with the SSM confederation, which covers all the private sector workers in the economy. But North Macedonia is the only country in the region, which also has branch collective agreements (CBA) in the textile and footwear industries. Their coverage is however limited to workers and companies that are members of their organisations.

Ljubco Radovski, president of the STKC union, recognises the need to increase CBA coverage both by organising more workers and encouraging companies to join the employer association. Radovski was positive about the ongoing revision of the Labour Code and the central collective agreement, in which unions are negotiating as full partners.

STKC has agreed to cooperate with two NGOs active in the textile industry, Open Gate/La Strada and Glasen Tekstilec, which have given publicity to problem cases and the goal of living wages. 

The Dutch Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) has worked on freedom of association and raising wages with its 18 member brands which have 54 factories in North Macedonia. Biljana Solakovska explained that FWF’s labour costing tool helped clarify the shared responsibility between a buyer and a supplier.

Luc Triangle, industriAll Europe’s general secretary said:

“The future of North Macedonia is in Europe, and in the European Union. But that requires a good labour law offering workers security and protection. It also includes quality jobs with living wages. We are not there yet. Government has its tasks, and companies have to act in accordance with principles of good governance and social responsibility. Our affiliates must be able to do their work and organise workers not only in garment and textile industry, but in all industries”.

The seminar in Skopje on 12-13 March was part of an EU-funded project “Strengthening the capacity of trade unions in South-East Europe to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and footwear sectors”, carried out in cooperation between industriAll Europe and IndustriALL Global Union. The project targets seven countries; Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.