Scaling up alternative labour dispute resolution

Serbian agency for settling labour disputes a model to replicate in the region

News | 04 October 2017

(ILO-Budapest) In the past 10 years, the Agency for Peaceful Settlement of Labour Disputes has worked on 15,000 individual and collective labour disputes and managed to settle 6,000 cases. Among these mediated and resolved cases were 200 collective labour disputes, showing that the work of the agency has reached a very good level of outreach. The agency received support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the past decade.

These impressive figures were reported in a recent opening ceremony for training mediators launched by Zoran Djordjevic, Minister of Labour, who explained that the Government of Serbia wants to rely more on dispute settlements in the future. "From the peaceful resolution of labour disputes through negotiations, not only individuals but also society as a whole benefits from the work of the Agency. Good examples in this respect have been the successfully resolved collective dispute at the Carnex Meat Industry, as well as the recent ending of a five-month strike in Goša." At Carnex, the Strikers’ Committee, with the Employer’s agreement, approached the Agency to ask for their intervention. After two mediation sessions, a resolution of the collective labour dispute was signed, which removed all reasons for the initiation of the strike. At the train wagon factory Goša, an agreement forged by the Agency determined the dynamics of payment of the unpaid wages and the reprogramming of debts which the employer has had towards the state pension system, due to a large amount of unpaid pension, disability and health insurance contributions.

The procedure is free, the state finances it completely. Agency Director Mile Radivojevic pointed out that every citizen in Serbia should know about the process and its advantages. The Agency offers alternative ways of settling labour disputes, such as termination of contracts, payment of minimum wage, discrimination and harassment at work, amendments and implementation of collective agreements. It works with 7 employees and a group of mediators, including lawyers, labour law specialists, former judges, invited to assist with cases on demand. The Agency organised a training for its mediators on 21 September, 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia, on mediation techniques. It has involved 40 mediators and arbiters and it was dedicated to collective labour disputes.

The Agency was established in 2005 in Serbia, as the first agency of its kind in the region. ILO has been providing support since the inception in the form of capacity building, and also to increase visibility, which remains a problem. Most of the workers in Serbia still resort much more often to the courts than to the Agency, despite the fact that court procedures tend to be significantly longer and more expensive than the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Jovan Protic of ILO in Serbia explained that the Agency, by building up its capacities over the years, has become a strong institution of peaceful resolution of labour disputes, and has been serving as a model for the countries in the region. In early November, a meeting will take place in Montenegro where agencies from three countries in the region will sign a cooperation agreement.