About the ILO in Serbia

Incomplete economic transition impacting labour markets

Serbia has been undergoing an unfinished transition from a centrally planned to a market economy for nearly 30 years interrupted and also partially reversed by the Balkan Wars in the 1990ies. Being the largest country of the Western Balkans, it has a strategic importance for EU accession negotiations with the candidate countries from this region.

The incomplete transition has its effects on labour markets. While unemployment is going down, Serbia continues to struggle with relatively low labour force participation, high inactivity, a large portion of youth neither in employment nor in education, and a high number of workers in state owned enterprises supported with high subsidies. Informality continues to be high, the quality of jobs requires substantive improvement and there is a need for further reform of the occupational safety system. The long-standing labour legislation reform is relevant both for EU accession and for advancement of social dialogue.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020 Serbia has sustained a loss in working hours of 510,000 full-time job equivalents, as demonstrated by the ILO COVID-19 impact assessment. It has managed to offset this shock by a generous though not targeted package of support measures to its economy, but as most other countries it faced tough choices in containing the pandemic and keeping the economy going.

To overcome these challenges the ILO is offering assistance in:
  • Improvement of labour market governance in line with International Labour Standards and improved legal basis for social dialogue and collective bargaining
  • Development of employment policies leading to more and better work,
  • Improved working conditions and protection from unacceptable forms of work.

The ILO in Serbia has been active since February 2008 with a focus on the major nation-wide challenges identified with its constituents and emphasized in its three consecutive Decent Work Country Programmes. It also works on labour market inclusion of vulnerable groups (such as the persons with disabilities) and it has a pronounced role in development of forward-looking national policies such as Green Jobs, tackling the multi-faceted issues of social inclusion and environment protection.

In response to the pandemic the ILO produced the COVID-19 impact assessment report, along with assistance provided to Serbian institutions in designing the country’s new Employment Strategy. The ILO also contributed to the evaluation of implementation of the Law on Employment and Professional Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities. All three activities directly contribute to the attempts of the country to cope with the post-COVID pressures on the labour market, with emphasis on vulnerable groups.