Read the interview with Irma Handabaka below.
Irma currently lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is a graduate student at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo. Irma is one of the thousands of students in Bosnia and Herzegovina who hope to find permanent employment when they complete their formal education. However, already in their student days, through volunteering and unpaid professional internships, as well as student jobs and work contracts, they are faced with a problem called precarious work in sociology.
In the beginning, can you please tell us more about you?
Of course. My name is Irma and I live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree from the International relations and Diplomacy track at the University of Sarajevo.
Are you employed?
Not right now.
Can you share your last mentionable work experience?
I worked for an organization from Kosovo for two months on a media project. It was formulated as an internship and I worked from the beginning of November until the end of December.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this form of work?
Well, for starters, it is unstable and almost always short term. Since many of these international short-term projects are financed by external actors such as funds and other organizations, most of the projects last for shorter periods (at least ones I worked on), and sometimes the project gets finished earlier because funding dries out or there is some other problem.
Does the corona crisis affect your work and how?
It is much harder to find work now because our economy took a big hit. In my country, many people lost their jobs since this crisis started and almost nobody is hiring right now.
How does your job affect your mental health?
Well, lack of it has a negative impact, especially in times of COVID-19. I think that many people have mental health issues now, regardless of the fact if they managed to keep their jobs or not.
How familiar are you with your work and employment rights?
I am familiar with some of them, but employers usually try to get around it. One of the examples is this: if your payment is 400 euros, you will get paid 300 euros on your bank account and the rest will be given to you in cash. They usually do this so they don’t have to pay more money to workers’ pension and health insurance. And many workers accept this because for them it’s more important to them to have a job today than think how big their pension will be in the future when they get older. But I have a feeling that in the last few years, this trend is less present for many younger people that are starting to work now are more aware that this will harm them in the future and are asking to be paid only on the bank account.
What do you think can be improved?
Of course, there are many grey areas in work-related laws. Some fields, such as full-time students work are not even regulated, they are just forbidden. Other fields, such as freelance jobs are regulated in a way that benefits only the state, not freelancers.
What would you change about the working rights you have now?
Work rights laws still require more work. Some things have to be revised, grey areas covered and new types of jobs created by the development of technology added to the rule book and properly covered by work laws.
Did you hear the term Precariat?
Honestly, I didn’t before our meeting.
Can you explain in a few words what it means to you?
Well, it is a term used to describe people that don’t have long term jobs, people that work for daily wages, people in the service industry that, for example, work during the summer at the restaurant or at cruise ships where work contracts are signed for short periods.
Do you think you are a precarious worker?
Well, right now I am.
Is precarious work term known in your country (home or where you are currently live in)?
No, it is not known under that term. Those types of work are known as just freelance jobs, or just jobs as a cruise worker or per diem worker.
Are in your country are a lot of people precarious workers?
That trend is mostly present in the younger people here that are more experienced with technology and some people that have less education and live in rural parts of the country.
In short, where do you see yourself in the future?
Right now, I just want to finish my master thesis because I postponed it for so long. Then I will try to find an internship in some government institution or NGO sector. I need to do at least 6 months of work experience in some field that is closely related to my field of studies to be able to apply for government jobs or jobs in NGOs.
Is the Precariat topic interesting to work on for you?
I think that laws regulating this type of work in many Western Balkan countries are non-existing or are not covering all fields. Many people didn’t even hear for this classification of work. That’s why it is important to continue to work on this topic and the laws that are regulating it.
Interview made by: Irma Sarać-Hukanović