In order to contribute to the political dialogue in the society on the eve of early elections in 2016, CIVIL - Center for Freedom began with a series of interviews with representatives of the civil society, expert community and the government.Within these activities, the team of CIVIL Media spoke with the Minister of Labor and Social Policy Frosina Tashevska - Remenski.
The new Minister of Labor and Social Policy comes from the ranks of the opposition SDSM, as part of the solutions anticipated with the Agreement for overcoming the political crisis. She replied to questions from CIVIL regarding the chaos in the centers for social protection, the virtual reduction of unemployment and the "difference" of 160,000 people in the "statistics" of the state institutions, the catastrophic conditions in which 50% of the funds for payment of pensions are a Budget subsidy, a devastating fact that was also recognized by the Minister of Finance Zoran Stavrevski, who stated that without credits there will be no pensions, nor welfare, nor expenses for work-related services.
Remenski also spoke to CIVIL about the manipulations with the recipients of social protection and socially vulnerable groups in general, and about promoting social dialogue by involving all stakeholders in collective bargaining, and not just representatives of the trade union organizations.
CIVIL Media: Your arrival at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs prompted unscheduled supervised inspections to be carried out in the Centers for social work. What conditions are you facing on the field? In what way and with what mechanisms do you plan to deal with the malfunctioning that you have discovered in the welfare centers?
REMENSKI: In order to determine certain conditions in the Centers for social work in the Republic of Macedonia, and in other public institutions that fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, a working group and a commission were established that would need to execute unscheduled supervised inspections on the implementation of the provisions of the Law on Social Protection, in the field of exercising the rights to social protection of the citizens of Macedonia, as the CSW, which decide in the first instance on the requests of citizens, are the direct decision-makers for granting social protection. The implementation of the special supervision is being finalized in some of the centers, but it is still in progress in others. A need for additional special inspection of the general legality in the centers was also determined, and also for an insight into the complete documentation passed by the directors and managing boards, in order to see the alignment of the acts of the centers with the laws, as well as the fulfillment of the decisions as an obligation of the directors and the accountability of the director before the board in the area of financial management, as required by law, and the overall operation of the director.
During this supervision, in relation to these two issues, we determined a few problems that require urgent and immediate resolution. For the most part it refers to- not acting within the determined legitimate deadlines in the centers, in terms of determining the actual situation of the applicants for social assistance, but also the overall administrative work that requires respecting certain deadlines, and that is mostly in the area of social protection. We already informed that many recipients of social security were denied their rights in 2014 in the area of implementing the new amendments to the regulations that determine the revenues. In that context, we noticed a retroactive application of the rules, which is contrary to Article 52, paragraph 4, of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, under which retroactive application of legislation is prohibited, unless they are favorable for the citizens. In this case, we found that there has been such a retroactive application, and that many citizens lost their right to social security. Today we submitted to the Public Prosecutor's Office an initiative for determining criminal responsibility for all those involved in the case of the retroactive application of the law, but, also for exceeding authority of a person on a probation job at the Ministry, who was deciding in the second instance on appeals precisely for people who had lost their right to social protection. In this regard, all these questions expose the problems that exist in the centers for social work.
The other findings remain to be seen, in order to be able to proceed in removing the problems that the Ministry and the centers are facing. We requested supervision from the administrative inspectorate, in order to examine certain conditions that were encountered, after the exceeding of authority was performed by the person on the probation job within the Ministry, and after the Minister, contrary to the law, delegated signing of acts to a person who is not permanently employed in the Ministry. Apart from these issues that concern the rights and obligations of citizens-recipients of social security, we found that more than 26,000 people as members of families have lost their social security based on previous indications. We also discovered some other irregularities in the work of the centers for social work, especially in regards to the rights and obligations of the Directors of the centers. We concluded that none of the directors, a total of 60, have fulfilled their legal obligation of the Law on Social Protection, to sign a management agreement with the Minister of Labor and Social Policy. For the most part, the election of directors was made in October 2015, the decisions and procedures for the election of directors took place in the second half of 2015, whereas the election of 20 directors was made in October and November 2015. But it was not proceeded according to the legally determined procedure in selecting the directors, the Minister concludes a management agreement which regulates the rights and obligations of directors. An agreement had been sent to all the CSW that had been previously determined as a text, in order to regulate their legal obligation for signing such an agreement with the Ministry. Unfortunately, there were two unsuccessful attempts to have a meeting with these directors, in terms of their legal obligation to sign a management contract, indicating that this was neglected with the former minister Dime Spasov, and with a purpose for the further work to be in accordance with the law. We came across incomprehensible explanations of the reasons why they did not show up for two days at the working meetings, and then they continued with strange explanations referring to the text of the agreement, that it is voluntary and not a legal obligation, that an obligation should be negotiated, forgetting they failed to fulfill the obligation. Not fulfilling this legal obligation puts into question their further work in the area of the control that the Ministry and the Minister will have in their operations. Especially having in consideration that they are accountable to the Board of Directors of the Centers, and to the Ministry.
If we take into account all the indications that we have from domestic and international relevant organizations regarding the election process and the manner in which certain heads of centers had proceeded, in the period of elections, and in terms of putting pressure on voters, then the answer to the question, why it was not proceeded according to the legal obligation of 2013 – for signing a contract of the directors with the Minister, is more than clear. It did not benefit anyone, during the elections, to have the obligation to comply to certain obligations and agreements, for which they could be dismissed and held legally responsible.
Over 26.000 citizens were left without social welfare, contrary to legal regulations!?
CIVIL Media: Reducing unemployment is one of the biggest projects that the ruling coalition is promoting. What is that really about and what is the realistic cause of the statistical decrease in unemployment?
REMENSKI: Many times now, the process of reducing unemployment in Republic of Macedonia has been argued by experts, both from the position of opposition and from the position of the academic community, if one takes into consideration the numerous factors that influence the actual decrease in the number, that is, the recorded unemployed at the Employment Agency. Especially, if we consider all the amendments to the legal requirements that impose to the registered unemployed persons the obligations to register every month, regularly on the date, hour, in order for them to be able to use the rights of the unemployed, and if we take into account the statistics that show many persons who have moved and never registered at the Employment Agency. In this respect, I refer to people who complete secondary education and perhaps, because of a number of reasons do not register. We are talking about those who have emigrated from Macedonia, whose registration at the agency is automatically stopped due to their time of absence. So, the question is: is this percentage of 25.5, which is said to be historically the lowest unemployment rate in Macedonia, a result of a real process or is it the result of multiple maneuvers that drastically reduce the rate of unemployed. And just as a reminder, in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, there are a large number of complaints pending or in progress because of deletion of records on several grounds.
It is one thing not to register within a certain deadline, but if the centers register a person as having lost some of its rights to social protection, then this person is automatically deleted from the records and vice versa. If the person that is unemployed is not recorded, and is a beneficiary of any of the rights to social security, than its right to social security terminates. In this area there is a double termination of the right. However, we also have a big dilemma in terms of the numbers, especially considering that the Pension and Disability Insurance Fund, counted 536 191 employed for 2014, while the State Statistical Office counted 696,000 employees! Accordingly, there is a difference of 160,000 (un)employed with the number of the State Statistical Office, which it has determined based on a survey, and not based on real indicators. Whereas, the Pension and Disability Insurance Fund has registered this figure based on the payments of employers' contributions. It remains unclear where the figure of 160,000 employees gets lost in a period of one year ?! More specifically, are contributions paid in the Fund for the difference of 160,000 employees? Furthermore, we keep hearing many advertisements like "Macedonia employs", in which the UNDP program has a large contribution, and the financial assistance from foreign organizations for employment of young people. Or, the figure of the Employment Agency on how companies have used this advantage and how many people are employed. But, we also have other statistics in that those rights are not so promptly respected.
There are requests from companies seeking reimbursement of funds for subsidizing of employments, which has remained a part of the government measures. There are numerous complaints that show disregard for labor rights, such as K-15, which was very popular these days, especially with the end of the fiscal year and the obligation of employers in the private and public sectors to comply with this obligation. There are a number of complaints about the lack of health insurance in the state institutions! Just as a reminder, the Ministry of Interior has not paid dues for two months to the Health Insurance Fund, they were having problems registering its employees. This was also the case with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. These errors are attributed as technical, in the records. But, the fact is that for certain employments, the obligation for timely payment of funds for the health insurance are continuously lagging behind. This also raises the question of the "hole" in the Pension Fund and the Health Fund, which is increasing from year to year and has put us in the situation - 50% of the funds for payment of pensions to be a subsidy of the Budget of Republic of Macedonia! It is a huge amount, larger than the 360 million Euros that are transferred for servicing the needs for payment of pensions!? We are facing a striking finding of the Minister of Finance, right before the borrowing, which came in collision with the veto of the Deputy Minister, when he admitted that if Macedonia does not indebt itself with the Eurobond, than we will face the non-payment of social welfare, pensions and other expenses that arise in the area of services for completed works! The fact that the Minister for Finance admits that the payment of salaries and pensions depend on the indebting, is devastating! By this, between the lines, the minister recognizes that there is a serious deficiency that can result in bankruptcy of these funds, which in due time, if the borrowing does not continue, will find themselves in collapse and inability to repay money for pensions and social welfare for the citizens.
It remains unclear, were did we lose that number of 160.000 employees within a year?! Actually, were those 160.000 people that were missing receiving payments from the Fund or not?
CIVIL Media: The manipulations with the recipients of social security and socially vulnerable groups in general, according to relevant reports from national and international agencies and organizations as well as the reports from CIVIL, are aimed at getting votes in the elections. How do you plan to deal with this problem right before the elections?
REMENSKI: If we take into consideration the answers to the previous questions, when I spoke about the rights and obligations among the directors and the minister with the management agreement, we must also note the obligation of the directors to properly care for the recipients of social welfare, to adequately manage the information on the recipients of social welfare and their economic status, and their restriction to any misuse for other purposes. As you said, numerous reports note certain abuses by officials, particularly in the area of elections, when going with the list from door to door there are threats that the right to social security will be terminated if the will for voting for the ruling party is not respected. In the following period, the primary focus is to remove any abuse in that area, more specifically, to hold responsible anyone who will try to misuse this data. Any abuse during this period, especially before the elections, with the purpose of extorting votes for the elections, or for the purpose of intimidation, will be severely sanctioned. These obligations are already in the Electoral Code and can trigger criminal liability, with imprisonment. During this period, our concern will be to protect the recipients of social security from the Ministry. Notings to all recipients who will be threatened or prevented to use the right to social protection, just because they do not comply to the request of an officer of the Centers or the Ministry, will be severely sanctioned. Therefore, in this regard, we call on all welfare recipients to report any threat or uncomfortable position in which they will find themselves because of an official, for another service, and not for what is necessary for exercising the rights. We now have under control the things we were pointing out for many years. It depends on the understanding of the legal obligation by the directors of the Centers for social work, but we will be uncompromising in terms of violations of the law.
CIVIL Media: You presented the Campaign for peaceful resolution of labor disputes with the Director of the International Labor Organization for Central and Eastern Europe, Antonio Graziosi. What are the reasons for conducting this campaign and what kind of effects do you expect to achieve?
REMENSKI: The International Labor Organization has an office in the Ministry and several projects relating to the promotion of workers' rights are currently being implemented. Namely, a consultative indication of the commitment of the Republic of Macedonia to comply with the 66 conventions that have provisions regulating employment rights for employees. However, also projects relating to the promotion of the tripartite agreement, the collective agreement, more specifically, promoting mechanisms through which employers, workers and those who have the responsibility to control the bargaining, to provide appropriate conditions through which the legal obligations will be respected in relation to what is agreed in the collective agreements. And promotion of that social dialogue, by involving all stakeholders in the collective bargaining, not only of the representative trade union organizations, but also of all others who have something to add in terms of promoting workers' rights.
Mediation or intermediate dispute resolution, arises as an obligation from the Labor Relations Law, and represents a mechanism that was launched in late November, promoted as one of the possibilities that can be used by the employee and the employer, in case of any dispute between them. There is a committee within the Ministry that is responsible for licensing mediators that have already been trained by experts. Currently, sixteen mediators are licensed in the MLSP, and with an application from an employee or employer to the MLSP, the mechanism for utilizing the mediators in resolving employment disputes will be initiated. In this regard, there are some references that are part of the action plan for the promotion of collective bargaining, recommendations of the International Labor Organization relating primarily in terms of suggestions for amendments to the Labor Law.
The registration of all users that will receive threats or will be denied the right for social welfare, only because they will not satisfy the request of any of the officials of the centers or the Ministry will be severely sanctioned.
CIVIL Media: In the context of workers' rights, do you have the right conditions to improve the situation of labor rights in the country? How?
REMENSKI: In recent years, we are aware of the continuous changes being made in the Law on Labor Relations, but, also in other related laws affecting labor relations concerning employees' rights. There are numerous remarks regarding the possibility for employees, for example, to prove cases of harassment or prove discrimination in the area of labor relations. In these two segments, the need to further strengthen the legal provisions is especially expressed, through which employees will be given a greater right in relation to the possibility to accede towards proving the harassment, but on the other hand, the employer's duty to refrain from any kind of pressure that will be noted by the employee. In terms of discrimination, an interdepartmental cooperation is required. We have a very large number of requests and complaints from and of the Ombudsman, who sends us certain complaints concerning employment rights. All of this demands a coordinated action between all supervisory and control authorities that have the obligation of monitoring the implementation of the provisions of these laws, to see just how much the obligations of the employer are fulfilled in terms of the timely payment of salaries, minimum wages, working hours and overtime work. All this requires a lot of great work that will put the working duties at a level that we all wish to see. It is part of the program of SDSM, which will be implemented after the victory in April 2016.
Civil – Center for Freedom has addressed four Ministers in the Government, who will be given questions within the framework of their scope of work several times before the elections, and once after the election process. We requested to have an interview with the Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski, Minister of Labor and Social Policy Dr. Frosina Tashevska Remenski, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Poposki and Minister of Justice Adnan Jashari.
The first to respond to our invitation in the first round of interviews was the Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski, which was published on December 15, 2015.
The Minister of Labor and Social Policy Frosina Tashevska - Remenski spoke with CIVIL Media journalists on December 28, 2015. The first round of interviews will end on January 15, 2016, after which we will announce the questions for those ministers that will not manage to find the time to talk to our team. The second round of interviews with the ministers will begin towards the beginning of February.
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Camera: Atanas Petrovski
Photo: Dehran Muratov
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