For the Western Balkans Region

Recognizing the urgent need to address the pressing labor and social issues prevailing in the Western Balkans region, we, the undersigned organizations, stand united in our commitment to promoting decent work for all. The Western Balkans countries have been coping with a range of interconnected challenges that undermine the well-being of workers and the stability of our societies. These challenges include:

1. Poverty: Widespread poverty remains a significant concern in our region, as a large portion of the population struggles to meet their basic needs. This situation perpetuates inequality and hinders social progress.

2. Low Wages: Many workers in the Western Balkans face the burden of inadequate remuneration, which fails to provide them with a dignified standard of living. Low wages not only contribute to poverty but also preserve social injustice.

3. Poor Quality Jobs: A significant portion of the workforce in our region is trapped in precarious employment characterized by informality, lack of social protection, and limited prospects for career advancement. These poor quality jobs contribute to the cycle of poverty and prevent workers from realizing their full potential.

4. Precarious and Unsafe Work: Precarity has become the norm for many workers, with little to no employment security, limited access to social protection, and hazardous working conditions. This exploitative environment jeopardizes workers’ safety, well-being, and future prospects.

5. Dependence on Foreign Direct Investments: While foreign direct investments can play a role in economic development, we observe a concerning trend of overreliance on such investments in our region. This reliance creates vulnerabilities, as companies often prioritize profit over workers’ rights, leading to exploitative practices and limited local control over economic decision-making.

6. Race to the Bottom: Intense competition among countries to attract investments has resulted in a race to the bottom, where governments and companies engage in deregulation, lowering labor standards, and weakening social protections. This race undermines workers’ rights, perpetuates precarious employment, and stifles the possibility of sustainable development.

In light of these challenges, we stand united in our commitment to achieving decent work for all in the Western Balkans. We firmly believe that regional cooperation and solidarity are essential to addressing these issues effectively. We call upon the governments, local authorities, trade unions and companies operating in our region to join us in the following endeavors:

1. Living Wages: Governments must ensure that all workers receive wages that provide them with a decent standard of living. Companies must commit to fair and equitable remuneration, valuing the contributions of their workforce. This necessitates the redistribution of wealth and the establishment of fair and equitable remuneration systems that prioritize workers’ well-being over corporate profits. Workers should earn enough to meet their basic social and existential needs, both for themselves and their families.

2. Social Protection: Governments should implement robust social protection systems that safeguard workers’ rights, but also prioritize the role of education and skills training. These systems should ensure universal access to healthcare, education, and adequate pensions, protect against unemployment and other risks and develop the economy in a way that will enable the creation of high-quality jobs and the development of a highly skilled workforce. These protections must extend to all workers, including those in the informal and migrant sectors, guaranteeing their rights, safety, and access to social security.

3. Labor Rights: Governments must enforce and strengthen labor laws, guaranteeing freedom of association, collective bargaining, and engage in promoting inclusive social dialogue. Companies must respect workers’ rights, including the right to organize and bargain collectively. Companies must respect and prioritize the well-being of their employees, ensuring safe and inclusive workplaces.

4. Inclusive Labor Policies for All: Acknowledging the importance of addressing labor challenges related to gender, youth, age, ethnicity or disability, governments should implement comprehensive and inclusively designed social protection systems. These systems should not only protect the rights of all workers but also tackle issues such as wage disparities, unequal opportunities, and the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds in informal labor. They must prioritize universal access to healthcare, education, and adequate pensions for everyone, guaranteeing equality in access and benefits regardless of gender, age, or ethnic background. People with disabilities should have reasonable accommodations, protection against discrimination, and access to support services to participate fully in the workforce. Upholding these labor rights for all individuals not only promotes social equity but also fosters inclusive and diverse workplaces that benefit society as a whole.

5. Sustainable Development: Policies and investments should prioritize sustainable and inclusive development, with a focus on job creation, innovation, and the green economy. This approach must foster decent work opportunities, protect workers’ rights and ensure a just transition towards a sustainable future.

6. Innovation & Technology: Governments should opt for diversification and democratization of the knowledge sources to be able to use technology for the reduction of social and economic inequality. Technical development should be responsible and equitable in order to be used for healthcare advancements, broader educational opportunities, job creation and improved delivery of overall social services.

7. Democratic Governance and Participation: We call for transparent and accountable governance, promoting the active participation of workers and civil society in decision-making processes that shape labor policies and ensure social justice. Governments must prioritize the needs and voices of their citizens over corporate interests.

8. Regional Cooperation and Solidarity: Western Balkans countries should enhance regional cooperation, sharing best practices, knowledge, and resources to address common labor challenges. We advocate for economic diversification strategies that promote sustainable development and reduce dependency on foreign investments. Regional solidarity among workers, unions, and civil society organizations is crucial to advancing decent work throughout the region.

We firmly believe that by embracing these joint positions and working collaboratively, we can build a region where every worker enjoys decent work, dignity, and social justice. We invite all stakeholders to join us in our endeavor to create a brighter future for the Western Balkans, where labor rights and social well-being are at the forefront of our collective pursuit of progress.

September 2023