The selected group of employees in the Center for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of the Disabled, ad Banja Luka, thanks to the privileges of the director, are paid far more than those who maintain the work process for irregular and “fragmented” minimum wage without contributions.
By: A. Pisarević / Photos: V. Stokić
This is claimed by workers who recently went on a one-hour warning strike, accusing director Željko Ubiparip of verbal and even physical attacks, severe disruption of interpersonal relations within the company, division of workers into privileged categories and those that are not, and the accumulation of debts that now threaten to reach the value of assets.
The letter sent by the workers to the Ministry of Labor and Veterans’ Disability Protection states that there is chaos in the Center, that the current management has brought the company into big debts, which is why its bank account is often blocked.
“This only benefits a few people, including the director and his close associates, and we other workers can barely make ends meet,” the workers write.
The letter from the workers adds that their contributions have not been paid for six years, which is why individuals who need to retire cannot exercise that right.
“Workers are paid salaries in irregular quarters, three salaries were paid only to the director’s associates. They are regularly paid full salaries, as well as additional bonuses based on the decisions of the Center, in the amount of more than 1,000 KM. There is no systematization of jobs, healthy people are employed without any rules, and there are few people with disabilities who can get a job at the Center. The head of the commercial department (a name known to the editorial office) employed her two brothers. The head of accounting (secondary education) employed her daughter, who is a teacher by profession, in the same office with her. Until recently, a cleaner, and a seamstress by profession, mysteriously became a graphic designer, progressed in business and even became the president of the workers’ union “, it is stated, among other things, in the mentioned letter.
The debts of the Center amount to around three million KM, which seriously endangers its further work. According to the suppliers, the debts increased to 800,000 KM, of which 620,000 KM for electricity, which is why a reprogram was signed whose monthly instalment amounts to 4,191.95 KM. Debt to the ITA BiH amounts to 6,580 KM, to the Tax Administration of the RS over 2.2 million marks, etc. Debts also existed for workers, but were recently settled.
In a conversation with eTrafika journalists, the union representative of the Center Miroslav Gnjatović emphasizes that the mentioned letter, which was sent to the address of the RS Government, City Administration, Inspectorate, and several media, was completely ignored. He says that the workers are asking for regular salaries and payment of contributions for all the years back, and that is urgent. They set a deadline of April 30 for this.
“Someone from the ministry forwarded a letter to the director, so he shouted at the workers. The representatives of the union went to Minister Milunović, he promised a lot, but he did not implement anything. The inspection did not do its job, although we offered evidence that the lawyer and the director are changing the rulebook on work at will, “he points out.
Threats and a slap
Faced with the mentioned situation and fear for survival, the workers decided to go on strike.
“That was another reason for the director, at the end of last year, to shout at us. This time he threatened. He said he would form his own union and break up ours. The union president then resigned. The director is pressuring the Government to pay the money, but also to preserve his position “, Gnjatović points out for our portal.
Gnjatović says that the workers in the Center are under indescribable pressure and that interpersonal relations are maximally disturbed, and that people are scared.
“Nobody knows what is happening to us there and what we are exposed to and left to, but there are recordings that clearly show him swearing and threatening the worker. He slapped one worker “, claims Gnjatović.
He says that the workers insist on examining the regularity of the work of the Center’s management.
“We have evidence of illegalities and we are asking for an audit of the business. For example, there are two regulations on work with the same date, stamp and protocol number, one original and the one forged, which allows them to do what they want and change the coefficients. We have proven it all. I took it to a working group formed by the minister and showed it to them. We talked, the lawyer who was there said it was for a lawsuit, and then nothing happened. An inspection came to us and found only that the salary was not paid on time. They didn’t even control the rest. They are sending us controls just for the sake of doing so, no one is doing their job “, says the trade unionist and adds that the strike was also supported by some workers who are not members of the trade union.
He divided the workers
He says that the director should have been fired a long time ago, but that he enjoys the support of the tenants of the Center, because he reduced their rent.
“Our debts are growing, they have exceeded three million, almost the value of the company. The time has come for us to fight for our basic rights in this way. In some time, we will see what has changed and if there are no significant changes, we will go in front of the RS Government building and ask for the existing leadership to be replaced. We have already asked for that, but they are forcing us to take more radical steps “, he says.
Boro Kvrgić, who has been working for 23 years, says that he saw a good and honest man in him after the arrival of the current director, but that, as he says, changed quickly.
“He reduced some costs for us and that’s it. It was important for him to reach an agreement with us. However, millions of debt say something completely different. There were a lot of projects that started. Money has been invested and nothing works after a few months. I don’t see what the purpose is. Everything was falling apart. Whatever he touched, he destroyed. It affected me personally, that some receive a full salary, and some only parts of it. I have a little less than 700 KM salary. Few of them have more than 900 KM, and we know who those people are. People close to him. It is humiliating for us, when we found out that we are not all the same. That hit me the hardest, ”he says.
His colleague Radenko Stjepanović, who has been working for 30 years, says that he should have retired two years ago, but that he was not allowed to do so.
“I could not retire because my work experience was not connected. Only now have the conditions been met, when the contributions for the six of us who are retiring have been paid after being put under pressure,” Stjepanović points out.
The director denies the accusations
In December last year, the Center’s trade union decided to go on a warning strike in an attempt to protect professional, economic, social and labour rights. The Ministry of Labor and Veterans’ Disability Protection promised to send an inspection, so it was postponed. On January 11 this year, the inspection determined that the salaries for October and November 2021 were not paid, and it was ordered for them to be paid.
The trade unions claim that the inspection did not perform its tasks professionally and conscientiously, so doubts were expressed about their impartiality.
Željko Ubiparip, director of the Center, says that the accusations of workers and union representatives are unfounded, and that it is not at all clear to him why they scheduled a strike today, when all their salaries were paid. He claims that there is no talk about physical and verbal attacks on workers, and he says that he now regrets it because he was so kind to them.
“Let them find only one crime as an example, what I did and who I attacked. I have been up there for seven years and now, right at the moment when I have Covid, when I have problems and when the Government of Srpska is helping us, they are starting a strike. All this is led by one of the former workers, now a pensioner, who wants to continue working under a work contract, and another who asked me to hire his sister. I told both of them that I can’t do that because we are overbooked and in these conditions, there is no room for new people “, says Ubiparip for eTrafika.
The director of the Center confirmed that he pays salaries in quarters, and as an explanation for that, he offered the fact that account blockades happen very often due to accumulated debts.
“It is true that the salary is paid in quarters, but only because I must not wait for a small blockade of our accounts so that everyone is left without a salary. However, during the month, everyone gets a full salary. I went out of my way to help them, maybe even more than I should have, feel free to emphasise so. Whenever they came to a state of need or had a problem, I would pay in advance to help them. If I am sinful for that, let me be. To those who have big loans and who have to pay them regularly, I have always helped, because it is human, but it is not clear to me where the story of mobbing and assault comes from now, after seven years. It is not characteristic of me, as a human being, to attack anyone. Even the inspection was surprised the last time by the allegations of the report because there are no arguments “, claims Ubiparip.
Two work regulations
He says that he inherited a debt of 690,000 KM, 16 unpaid contributions and a delay of three salaries. In such a situation, after a year, he says, he demanded either that the Center become an institution financed from the budget or that funding be increased.
Changing the rule book
“They received four net salaries in a month and a half, which I announced to them. At first, we lacked working capital, but we made up for it before the New Year and finished everything in a month. It is not true that the Ministry gave them salaries, one did, but we earned three from production “, he says.
He claims that behind everything there are injured vanities that disrupt successful negotiations with the Government of Srpska.
“We have all grown old together there, our technology is outdated, we are not competitive and we can hardly keep up with others. No worker has ever been punished by a salary deduction, but now I am sorry for that. I never said that I would establish a syndicate and break theirs, for me the existence of syndicates is normal and necessary. Their demands are in a domain that does not concern them. They should deal with salaries, contributions and workers’ rights. They sent thousands of letters to the Government and the Ministry, constantly changing the requirements, expanding them and often lying,” he said.
Ubiparip confirmed the existence of two work regulations adopted in the same year, and for the latter, he says that there is no date and that there are such small and negligible changes.
“The strikers are now asking for salaries to be calculated according to their professional qualifications, and all the time these healthy people with professional qualifications have protested, because they have minimum salaries,” he says.
Problems last for years
Nikola Šobat, President of the Trade Union of Media and Graphic Artists of Republika Srpska, says that the problems in the Center have lasted for years and that they must be solved systematically.
“There are hidden employment contracts and violations of the law when paying salaries to workers. there is no collective bargaining agreement in the Center that would regulate the remuneration of workers in a clear way. We demand that the rights of workers be regulated, that a collective agreement be made and signed and in accordance with that employment contract, that all workers receive a salary, not just selected workers, not to divide people, and that adequate control over the work of company management is done and the allegations of the workers be investigated”, said Šobat.
The Ministry of Labor and Veterans’ and Disabled Protection told us that they were aware of the reasons for the warning strike of the Center’s employees and their demands, because they had previously informed them about everything.
“In the previous period, several meetings were held with the representatives of the Trade Union Organization and the Supervisory Board of the Center in order to have a more complete view of the situation. A working group of representatives of this ministry, trade union organization and the management of the Center was formed to compile detailed information on the situation on the basis of which the ministry will prepare information for the Government of Srpska (which performs the function of the Assembly of Shareholders) and propose certain measures to remedy the situation. they said in the ministry.
In the past ten years, the Government has allocated 2,607,505 KM to the Center, of which 507,029 KM in 2021 alone, all for the purpose of investment, payment of the debt to the Indirect Taxation Authority of BiH (238,000 KM), to finance the basic activity of professional rehabilitation, payment of suppliers and provision of raw materials for production activities.
By the way, as the Center is a joint-stock company, the director is appointed by the Supervisory Board of the Center, not the Government, and he is accountable to the Supervisory Board. The Minister and the Government have no competence when it comes to the appointment of the director and his responsibilities.
“The director and the Supervisory Board are responsible for controlling the spending of funds, because this is a joint-stock company, not an institution”, they note from this ministry.
Prior to the warning strike, the Government had already taken concrete measures against the Center and in December 2021 paid funds in the amount of 142,274 KM for the payment of pension and disability insurance contributions for employees of the Center who met the conditions for old-age pension and funds in the amount of 90,000 KM for procurement of raw materials and payment of suppliers, in order to enable the smooth operation of the Center.
By the way, the director of the Center, Rajko Ubiparip, is a member of the Socialist Party, which is part of the government in Republika Srpska. Minister Milunović is his party colleague.