On 16 April, trade union leaders of BWI affiliates from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia held a virtual meeting to discuss the issues faced by workers resulting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. They committed to participate in BWI’s “protect workers, stop COVI-19” global campaign on the occasion of the International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 February. The unions are using social media to disseminate information and raise health and safety awareness among workers regarding the health crisis.
The union leaders also discussed workplace-related deaths. They said that even before the crisis, the number of workers who were injured and died due to workplace accidents was high in countries in South East Europe. They said that workers’ exposure to traditional hazards has been compounded by new risks presented by COVID-19.
The union leaders asserted that investment in the prevention and preservation of hazard-free jobs is a key issue, especially during a pandemic. They said that trade unions must not only have a greater role in overseeing the issues of occupational health and safety, but also in monitoring and negotiation, education and other awareness-raising initiatives.
The unions also expressed their concerns over government initiatives in some countries in the region to amend labour laws to reduce workers’ rights and undermine the system of collective bargaining at national and sectoral levels. They said that labour and social rights cannot be suspended. They also explained that employers are not allowed to make unilateral amendments to collective bargaining agreements and employment contracts as these are bilateral accords that were signed with trade unions or workers. This applies especially to occupational safety and health measures, including the measures against COVID-19 that cover the organization of work hours and entitlements to wage or wage compensation.