Uranija Pirovska

Executive Director, Helsinki Committe for Human Rights in North Macedonia

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

20th February 2019 Skopje, North Macedonia

Workers’ rights in North Macedonia

Everyone has the right to work, to freely choose his or her employment, to be protected at work and to be provided with material security during temporary unemployment.”

Article 32 of the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia

World Day of Social Justice 20th of February is a suitable occasion to talk about workers’ rights in the country of which the economy traditionally ranks among the ones with the highest rates of unemployment in Europe. The official data from the State Statistical Office claims that the unemployment rate in North Macedonia for 2018 is 20.8%, most of which consists of people with completed either primary or secondary education, and that the inactivity rate is 43%. From the number of inactive persons, comprised of people who are not able to work or are not looking for a job, 35.4% are men and 64.6% are women. The EU Country Report for 2018 recognises that despite the progress in public finance management and transparency, key weaknesses of the economy remain. These include shortcomings in the business environment, such as weak contract enforcement and a large informal economy, structural problems of the labour market, reflected in low activity and high unemployment rates and general weaknesses in education curricula, low innovation rates and important investment gaps including, in particular, public infrastructure.

According to The World Bank data, in 2009 the country had the highest economic inequality rate in Europe with a Gini index of 42.2, but over the years that rate has fallen to 35.6 in 2014. In terms of salaries, the average monthly net wage paid per employee in October 2018 was 24,817 MKD with high discrepancies between different sectors. For instance, the highest average monthly net salary paid in the ‘Computer programming, consulting and related activities’ sector was in the amount of 59,443 Denars, comparing to the lowest paid salary which was in the ‘Fisheries and aquaculture’ sector in the amount of 12.711 MKD. This data gives a brief picture of the labour map in North Macedonia and shows us what is the structural position of the economy. This structural setup dictates the framework for the work of the institutions and of the mechanisms for protection of workers’ rights.

High unemployment rates, fundamental problems in the economy and general distrust in the institutions and the rule of law, put the workers in a position where they rarely utilize the legal remedies available in cases of violations of their rights at the workplace. Considering that the analytical picture of labour in North Macedonia shows that the main share of employees is in the processing industry sector – 153 430 people, with salaries around or below the average, for many of them access to justice in this field is not a viable option. An analysis conducted by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in North Macedonia presented a survey where 82.60% of the respondents reported that their labour rights, or the rights of their close ones, were endangered at some point, but only 22.29% stated that they have made use of the institutional mechanisms for protection of these rights.[1] Furthermore, the Law on Labour Relations, which is a systemic law that sets the general framework of all labor related issues, has been amended 35 times and many of its provisions remain ambiguous and unclear, which adds to the uncertainty of the workers’ protection. Even though the Government promised a new Law on Labour Relations and formed a working group in August 2018, of which the Helsinki Committee is part of, the dynamics and the quality of the work has not been promising so far.

All of the aforementioned indicates that the worker in North Macedonia is not in a favourable position and that a lot remains to be done before the country can establish a functioning labour legislation protecting the workers’ rights and subsequently increasing their productivity at the workplace.

[1] The analysis will be published and promoted on the 28th of February.

Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts to members of organisations who are partner implementers of UK’s programme assistance to North Macedonia. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.

Platforms of the British Embassy Skopje use the term Republic of North Macedonia, or North Macedonia, in line with UK Government policy in regard to the name change of the country.