As of November 2015, the Association “Vaša prava Bosnia and Herzegovina“ has been implementing the project “Reducing Workplace Exploitation and Improving Labour Rights Protection in Bosnia and Herzegovina“ supported by Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
Six workshops/public discussions were held as part of the project in major cities in BiH (Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina and Prijedor). The aim of these debates was to find answers to the ever more present exploitation in the workplace, ensure a more efficient mechanism of protecting the rights of employees, and create the conditions for a long-term improvement of working conditions and a higher living standard for the most disadvantaged population groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These workshops were also an opportunity to exchange experiences related to the implementation of the new legislation. The participation of employees as well as trade union representatives at these workshops/public discussions was absolutely invaluable.
At the end of 2015, new labor laws were adopted and entered into force in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from the obvious significance of such legislation, both laws were adopted by quick legislative procedure with a notable lack of meaningful public discussion or consultations prior to the adoption of said laws. This also resulted in amendments to the law that had just been adopted, mere months after it entered into force in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Association “Vaša prava“(Your Rights) from Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly well-suited to contribute to the discussion on the new legislation. The Association has been active for 15 years and has 9 offices in both BiH entities where it continues to provide free legal aid to socially disadvantaged groups (citizens of BiH) on issues concerning labor law. This experience is especially important when evaluating the concrete, practical implementation of labor legislation, i.e. how it plays out in the actual employment relationship. Besides the problematic provisions that will be discussed later, the new labor legislation is in many ways also an improvement on previous labour laws. However, one should be careful not to jump to the conclusion that employees now find themselves in a better position in comparison to the last sixteen years when previous labor laws were in force in both entities. It is clear that no analysis of labor legislation is complete if it focuses solely on the formative level without reflecting on the issues of the implementation itself.
Inconsistent implementation of previous legislation was the cause of many violations of labour rights which often took the form of exploitation. This was primarily manifested in the widespread phenomenon of illegal employment (employment without an employment contract), frequently unpaid overtime work, work on days statutorily defined as non-working, work during state or religious holidays, depriving employees of their right to annual leave, irregular pay checks accompanied by the practice of the employer taking back half of the paid salary, failing to pay benefits, the employees being afraid to take sick leave, and frequent exposure to non-physical abuse in the workplace (harassment), and exposure to arbitrary punishments for alleged transgressions, i.e. violation of work rules. The low level of labour legislation and the long court procedures in cases when citizens chose to protect their rights through the court, together with the dire economic and social situation, often forced employees to consent to exploitatory working conditions since they believed there is no way out. Unfortunately, the experience of the Association “Vaša prava of Bosnia and Herzegovina“ has shown that the adoption of new labor laws in Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has yet to bring about meaningful change to reduce or eliminate the prevalent and systematic exploitation of employees in the workplace. In fact, some aspects of the new legislation could very well reinforce it