Survey looks at attitudes of unofficial workers

A survey by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that unregistered black market workers see little point in complaining, and only hope for a change in the future.
Ljubinka Mor can’t get her pension she thought she earned after working 36 years for Centrotrans MT International. Her employer failed to pay its dues to the pension fund for almost a decade and Ljubinka now feels ‘worthless’.

A new survey of 1,550 citizens suggests that workers see little point in fighting against a system that has stripped one out of every three workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) of workplace rights.

The entity and state statistic bureaus count 241,740 of BiH’s 810,792 workers as unofficial.

hough they have no guarantee of overtime pay or legally required contributions into their health care insurance and pensions, workers in that vast labor black market overwhelmingly don’t complain, report their employers to authorities or quit.

Instead, according to the survey conducted by Prism Research and commissioned by The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN), they passively hope for change.

Despair shows in numbers

A majority of workers told Prism Research last December that being unregistered affects their view of their job. Some 90 percent of respondents said they would be more efficient and dedicated to their tasks, if they were registered.

The workers also seemed to know that they may be forfeiting their futures trying to hold onto jobs and just get by in the present.

Twenty-one percent of respondents in the CIN/Prism poll, which has an error rate of 3 percent, said they were worried about the future. But they are not doing much to act on that worry.

Asked what their plans for the future were without pension or health insurance, sixty-two percent of unregistered workers said they hoped things will change.

Responses showed that most workers would not report employers who failed to register them as required by law. Fifty-one percent of those respondents who hold jobs said they would not report bosses for a variety of reasons, the top ones being they didn’t think anything would change and they might be unable to find another job, the survey showed.

Portrait of Black Market Laborer

In response to the question: Have you ever worked unregistered? one of five respondents between 18 and 35 in the CIN/Prism survey said yes.

Research from both entity and state statistics bureaus indicates that two-thirds of workers in the black market are men, nearly 60 percent are between 25 and 49 and nearly 79 percent live in villages. Overwhelmingly they have a secondary school education.

According to research by the bureaus, Tuzlanski canton has four times more illegal workers than Sarajevo canton despite having about the same number of workers; the Zenica and Mostar regions three times more than Sarajevo.

Bijeljina has more illegal workers than Banja Luka.

Unemployment, bad economy fuel market

Jago Lasić, president of the Chamber of Commerce of FBiH, said the CIN/Prism findings did not surprise him. Data that his organization and its counterpart in the RS keep showed similar results although even those numbers do not give the full picture of the black market, he said. For example, some 5,000 informally employed BiH citizens, mostly construction workers, are in Croatia, he said.

The World Bank studied the BiH labor market in 2005 and recommended major reforms. Its experts connected the black market with high unemployment in BiH’s struggling post-war economy.

Sabina Spahić, a sociologist, has been trying to get a job for two years. She worked on the labor black market to support herself during school and today she has no respect for a system that has failed her.

They calculated that in 2001, when unemployment stood at 16 percent, some 37 percent of workers were not official. In 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, unemployment was up to 22 percent and some 42 percent of workers were unregistered.

When people need jobs, investment is low and business is struggling, experts say, black market labor makes sense and may be unavoidable.

‘Here, the labor black market is a philosophy of living’ said Amenar Muratagić, a labor inspector from Bihać. ‘It is logical for employers to ask themselves what did the state give me? And we get ourselves in situation that people are cursing at the state and everything becomes worse.’

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