Textile industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As an important measure in Yugoslavia after the Second World War, the so-called workers’ participation approach was applied to industries and big corporations. This was a measure to ensure that workers’ needs were addressed, while worker unions became an important part of social life… Companies had the status of ”second homes” and employees had been sentimentally linked to them… They went on vacation to company-owned holiday resorts whereby they did not have to pay for accommodation or food… Everything changed with the beginning of the privatization process. More intensively after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the transition from socialism to capitalism left great traces on the way many companies do business. The change in the way of doing business affected the workers the most. Some of the changes are changes from permanent contracts to fixed-term contracts, the introduction of different working conditions, reduction of annual leave, an increase of norms, etc. The textile industry is the least paid in B&H. Workers often receive a minimum wage on the condition that they accomplish huge norms. It often happens that they receive a minimum legal income at the bank, but because they did not reach the norm, they need to return a certain amount in cash. This time we bring you the story of A. A. A woman who started working in the textile industry before the war. A. A. is 65 years old and has a high school diploma. She started working in the textile industry a couple of years before the start of the armed conflict. In the meantime, she has changed several companies but in the same industry. (The initials are used in this text because the person whose story we present in this interview could be exposed to possible pressure and threats of dismissal from the employer, which is not uncommon in this country.)

You are employed as a worker in the textile industry for many years. Can you compare your working conditions before the war and now?

Before the war, there were about 400 workers in the company and now there are about 30. We worked 8 working hours with a break of half an hour, as it is now, but it was extended as needed. That extension was paid, in the company where I worked. We had an indefinite contract. There was a workers ‘union, a workers’ council, unlike now where there is no union, or there is but most workers do not know what to start with the union. I have a feeling that now the union is no longer on the side of the workers but the side of the employer. Workers had insurance so that if something happened in the workplace, an injury, or the like, the worker could collect compensation.

You said before that you had an indefinite contract. Was it a practice in your firm that workers have a contract for an indefinite period?

Yes, I had an indefinite contract. During the employment itself, we had to do a probationary period of one month. People who already had experience in the textile industry came to probation. Probation was paid. For those who wanted to work in this industry and had no previous experience, the company provided them with a course lasting 6 months, food and transportation. After completing the trial work and the course, we got a contract for 3 months, for 6 months, then for an indefinite period.

The same firm employed you immediately after the 92-95 war. What was the situation with workers’ rights and contracts afterward?

I did. I had employment in the same company immediately after the war. I worked for the same company but I had not always officially employed. We didn´t get any paid health contributions. Sometimes we get a one-month contract, but legally it took us several months to work to get an indefinite contract. Therefore, from the benefits, we only had a monetary compensation for the work. We worked many extended hours then because they told us that it was up to us whether we would have a job and how much we would contribute to the company. We no longer heard about the union and we constantly had high norms, which, if we did meet them, prevented us from being fired. For my work after the war until 2010, they did not pay me the entire length of service. Therefore, I lost maybe 10-15 years of service due to non-payment of contributions. After many debts for the company, the change of directors, they declared the company bankrupt. Workers tried to go on strike, trying to get the paid length of service for the years they worked, but they failed.

Unpaid length of service was in the company where you worked after the war, but in the company where you now work, contributions for length of service are paid?

After the post-war experience, we no longer trust them. I think they are paying now, I am on an indefinite contract and I get payment. Every time I wonder how much revenue, they should give to the state. It is almost like a double salary. The state makes it difficult for privateers and privateers for workers. I also go to check regularly, the payment for my length of service, in the tax administration. I think I am a frequent guest in the tax now.  

How many days off did you have, how many holidays and vacations before the war and how many now? Are the days off paid and can you take a day off when you want?

We had days off for official holidays. We had a paid collective vacation. How many days we will get for annual leave, depending on the length of service. From 21 days to a month. Sundays were not counted as days off. And now, we get a total of 20 days off with unpaid holidays, so the paid collective annual lasts for 15 days and often includes Sunday. Besides, unlike before, sick leave is difficult to take because workers are under constant pressure if they go on sick leave that they will lose their jobs. There are no “unions” as we had. There is no more commission to assess whether a man is capable to work.

Did you went on trips, to cultural events with the company before the war, and do you go now?

Yes, we went to a resort in Graz, Croatia. We had our resort there. The union covered the costs of food and accommodation, and it was ours to pay the additional costs. Now, we sometimes get flowers for March 8, sometimes gifts. Once we even went to lunch at the expense of the company.

Do you want to share something else with us at the end?

Unlike the companies after the war in which I worked, now it is a little better, but we still have huge norms, which I, as an older woman, can no longer reach. My health is worse, so I often need check-ups and I am constantly threatened with dismissal. There is a lot of pressure, to do more and more, and I do not have that much strength anymore. I still have a few more years to work until retirement. I would not like to be fired because I am older and other companies will find it difficult to hire me as a worker in addition to young, faster workers. I remember, in Yugoslavia, it was a disciplinary commission. I could not be fired. It had to be proven first that I had violated some points in the contract, after that, a reprimand is obtained, and only then dismissal. Today, being fired is the fastest procedure. We used to have more democracy in all spheres of the firm. We had more security and freedom. Workers were valued more and workers’ rights were respected. Because of everything that happened to the company after the war, there is a great fear among workers of dismissal and the difficulty of finding another job. Therefore, the workers are silent and hope that in this way they will avoid the situation of being left without a monthly, even minimal income until they retiree.

Inreview made by : Irma Sarac-Hukanovic