Irfan Čengić is a member of the House of Representatives of the FBiH Parliament. Prior to his election to the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was a councilor in the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Sarajevo, where he served as Vice-Chairman of the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Sarajevo from 2016 to 2018, while in 2012-2016 he served as Chairman of SDP councilors. In the term of office 2008-2012 he held the position of President of the Commission for Youth Affairs of the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Sarajevo, and from 2012 to 2016 he was a member of the Commission for the Statute and Regulations of the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Sarajevo.
“Non-working Sunday as a positive social effect in strengthening the family”
Academy:The Academy for Women Foundation has implemented a project called "This is discrimination, too" which aims to raise awareness of what gender discrimination is and to encourage and inspire women who are employed in shops, to be actively involved in project activities and contribute to the advancement of women's labor rights. The aim of this project is a campaign of solidarity with employees in the field of trade, which refers to the right to a non-working Sunday. We will invite people from various social spheres to participate in the "STOP to a Working Sunday!" Campaign, and in this way boycott shopping on Sunday which is the least we can do considering the lack of understanding from the authorities and employers. At the end of December 2018, Mr. Čengić, you sent the Initiative for Amendments to the FBiH Labor Law to the parliamentary procedure, with an emphasis on banning work on Sundays in certain areas, including trade. The FBiH government has "wholeheartedly" rejected the Initiative, saying it is not acceptable at this time. In mid-March this year, due to the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, stores have not stopped working, but the Crisis Centers of both entities have adopted a measure related to preventing shops from working on Sundays? This crisis measure was also adopted by the Government.
Isn't it sad, Mr. Cengic, that one pandemic won the fight for the long-sought rights of workers in this sector, at least for a short time, while some of our politicians had no interest in workers in this sector?
Čengić: The COVID-19 pandemic was a terrible thing for the whole world, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, but one of the few positive things in that period was the fact that we were able to adapt to changes in relation to everyday life. Most shops were closed for weeks and life did not stop, I think the pandemic showed that citizens could get used to a non-working Sunday and adjust their usual habits to that change.
Academy:We cannot but say that workers' rights are being violated on a daily basis in this sector and that employees, especially female employees, experience various forms of discrimination. You yourself stated that workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina often work many more hours than they should be allowed by law, and they do not have days off or are even forced to work extra hours in order to have those days off. On the other hand, taking into account the last two months, we have witnessed the efforts made by shop workers in their work to make this sector work at least in terms of sales. Of course, some workers in the store worked day and night, but most of them were neither rewarded nor adequately paid for that effort and overtime. In this case, they may get a few days off as compensation for their efforts. Fearing for their job, workers also agree to this type of "payment on days off".
Are these examples not a direct violation of workers' rights and which government body is responsible for preventing their violation?
Čengić: Unfortunately, the Directorate for Inspection Affairs does not have sufficient capacity to fully protect workers' rights, especially in terms of overtime, which was further aggravated by parliamentarians who supported amendments to the law that deprived the Federal Labor Inspectorate of its control over violations of the law in the field. In addition to the large number of overtime hours worked, an additional problem is inadequately paid overtime hours. I believe that it is necessary to invest more budget funds in inspections and enable the employment of more inspectors, and at the same time make greater efforts and standardize the process of mandatory electronic records of working hours, which would significantly complicate the exploitation of workers.
Academy:As part of your Initiative to enact the Law on Amendments to the FBiH Labor Law, you also requested an amendment to Article 46, which defines the right of workers to weekly rest, which would increase from the current 24 hours to 36 hours per week in certain activities, which includes trade, with a mandatory Sunday being added to those hours. As the main motive for increasing the number of hours of uninterrupted weekly rest, you mentioned the fact that according to the current Labor Law of FBiH, it is possible for a worker to work as many as 342 days a year, without working overtime. The position of employers is that there is no need for such initiatives and amendments to the FBiH Labor Law, because the Labor Law treats work and days off. The president of the FBiH Employers' Association believes that the initiative does not imply a ban on working on Sundays, because such a solution would be unconstitutional. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of BiH states that it will support the initiative and will participate with all its capacities in its realization, and they believe that it will not negatively affect BiH economy.
Mr. Cengic, would a non-working Sunday really have a negative impact on the BiH economy and would it have consequences for workers in the trade sector, in terms of dismissal?
Čengić: First of all, the initiative was rejected by the Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it formally no longer exists legally, what I am currently working on and trying to help the unions are non-working days during public holidays. It would be frivolous for me to say that banning certain activities on Sundays would not have an impact on BiH economy, it certainly would have an impact and even in some cases there would be a reduction in the number of jobs, which is an objective economic danger. On the other hand, a ban on working on Sundays would have positive social effects, primarily in the area of strengthening the family and quality time spent by parents with children. Like any policy, it has disadvantages and advantages, so it is necessary to take a serious approach to considering this policy. Unfortunately, the FBiH Government initially decided to reject this initiative and not give it an insightful consideration. Certainly Germany and Austria had serious analyzes before the introduction of the Sunday work ban and after these analyzes decided to introduce the Sunday work ban because it brings more advantages than disadvantages.
Academy:Although the Government of FBiH rejected your initiative, the citizens of FBiH, as well as employees in the areas to which the initiative relates, including shops, were greeted with great enthusiasm. Finally, someone dared to ask the question of non-working Sunday and other workers' rights. But unfortunately what you did not succeed, the corona succeeded, albeit briefly, because the situation in BiH is slowly returning to normal, most of the measures of the Crisis Center are abolished, including non-working Sunday, but in the sea of these negative examples there is a positive one. Namely, at the session held at the beginning of May, the City Council of the City of Livno unanimously adopted the Decision on Amendments to the Decision on Working Hours of Legal and Natural Persons in the Field of Trade and Catering. According to this decision, legal and natural persons in the field of trade on Sundays and holidays will not work. According to the proposer of this decision, the Mayor of the City of Livno, Luka Čelan, the measure of this ban proved to be effective and generally acceptable not only in the area of the City of Livno, but also in the world.
Mr. Čengić ,should other cities / municipalities, i.e. their cities (mayors) in FBiH, follow this example and is this decision within the competence of local authorities at all or is it the Government of FBiH that makes the final decision?
Čengić: It is commendable that local self-government units are trying to raise the level of protection of workers' rights to a higher level, but these are only exceptions. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, needs a unique systemic solution and that all workers enjoy the same rights when it comes to banning work on Sundays. I am glad that my initiative opened this topic to the public, and that it started to be discussed loudly. I think that this is an introduction to take this topic more seriously in the future, especially from a future FBiH Government that will have more sensitivity for the protection of workers' rights, but also the protection and development of families as the basic cells of our society.
Akadmija: Mr. Čengić, the Amendment to the FBiH Labor Law was recently adopted in the part that refers only to emergency situations, such as natural and long-term disasters. While this Amendment was being adopted, the state of accident was abolished. Can you give us more information and explain what this is about and whether, based on this Amendment to the FBiH Labor Law, there will be more benefits for employees or employers?
Čengić: The Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has proved to be unfit in this example as well, and that it does not seriously deal with the topic of work and social policy. The relevant ministry in the Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina admitted in front of the TV cameras that his ministry was not working on the draft of this law, but that it was written by certain advisers to the Prime Minister of the FBIH. This law has never been discussed at the sessions of the houses of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I think it will not be considered. If the parliamentary procedure does take place, I am convinced that it will not get the support of MPs and delegates.
Academy:Mr. Cengic, the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina carries the achievements of the working class, the proletariat. Somehow, most representatives of the SDP BiH are expected to fight and advocate for the working class, the forgotten and neglected middle class. The example we have given, which refers to the mayor of Livno, is an example that we would somehow expect from the mayor, elected and appointed from the ranks of the SDP BiH. Where did the SDP BiH struggle for labor disappear and is it enough to have only programs oriented towards social democracy, an alibi that you are not part of the government and it is increasingly difficult and whether there is room for an alternative form of struggle, which includes field work, disenfranchised and endangered and continuous articulation and action on these topics?
Čengić: One of the problems of social democracy in BiH and Europe is that the left achieved most of its goals in the second half of the 20th century, such as eight-hour working hours, paid leave, trade union association and the like. Social democracy in BiH and the world must set new goals and new methods for achieving those goals. The SDP BiH is a party with 111-year-old achievements, and it is not the same to act during socialism in the past and capitalism and the free market today. I will give you just one example, one of the key policies of the SDP BiH is to increase the minimum wage for workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. SDP BiH has made a clear policy and goals, written a law and sent it to the parliamentary procedure, but most workers gave their votes to those political parties that do not want their minimum wage to be increased. Now the same workers are asking the SDP to succeed in passing this law, and they have not given us enough ‘’hands’’ in parliaments to pass it. Alternative forms of struggle will not bring the desired results, the only thing that can bring results are elections, in which, unfortunately, workers vote for those people they know will not fight for their workers' rights.