Serbian NGOs Say Welfare Changes Mean ‘Forced Labour’

Serbian NGOs have condemned plans by the government to change the law on social assistance, conditioning the receipt of welfare on beneficiaries’ willingness to work (source: BIRN).


A dozen NGOs in Serbia have condemned proposed amendments to Serbia’s Law on Social Assistance, saying they will force welfare recipients to undertake “forced labour” in exchange for access to benefits.

“The text [of the amendments] defines that a working-capable individual [only] has the right to monetary social assistance if he [or she] in the last six months has not refused to participate, among other things, in public works,” NGOs said in a petition, which seeks the withdrawal of the proposals.

Activists say the changes violate Serbia’s constitution, which guarantees that achieved levels of human rights in Serbia may not be taken away or reduced.

“It also violates the international obligations of the Republic of Serbia in relation to the prevention of forced labour and discrimination,” the petition said.

This is not first time the Serbian government has tried to impose compulsory work on welfare recipients.

The former Minister for Social Affairs, now Defence Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, often advocated this change.

In 2014, Vulin said that “the working activity” of welfare beneficiaries is “not a punishment but a way to restore dignity to people who receive this help and to feel useful”.

He added that accessing social help should not be permanent category but “a means to overcome currently poor conditions that can be overcome only through learning and work”.

The same year, Vulin’s ministry introduced a regulation – not a law – on the work activities of welfare beneficiaries, obliging able-bodied citizens to work if they wish to receive social financial assistance.

NGOs and opposition parties condemned the change, accusing Vulin of “introducing measures characteristic of Fascist societies”.

In November 2014, they asked Serbia’s Constitutional Court to check whether the new regulation was in line with the highest legally act in the country. This case is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the ministry introduced law changes in mid-July with a deadline for the public to comment in public discussions of this weekend.

The ministry will then decide if some suggestions will be adopted and send the amendments to the government, which will put it on the agenda of the parliament.

NGOs warn that the proposed changes also envisage continued financial social assistance being conditioned by regular education and achieving success in the education system.

Activists say the proposals are contrary to the recommendation