Pay cuts cause a strike in Magna factory in Serbia

Workers st the factory gate in Odžaci; Photo: Anonymus Srbija / Facebook

All three shifts in the Magna Seating factory in the town of Odžaci in Serbia discontinued work yesterday in protest over unannounced pay cuts.

I worked more workdays than last month, worked on a Saturday, and did six nightshifts, but I received 3.000 RSD (25 €)1 less. Some workers got up to 20.000 RSD (170 €) less than usual. The workers are convinced that the accounting for their last month’s salaries is flawed, but they don’t know what caused it. They are revolted by the employer’s claim that there is nothing wrong with the accounting.

This is what a worker in the Magna factory, who wished to stay anonymous, told Mašina. As he clarified, this is not the first time a problem with salaries occurs. In January 2018 the workers’ salaries increased to 46.000 RSD (388 €). However, already in February they experienced the first of a series of cuts that followed since. The employers ignored it or blamed poor accounting until this month, when all of the workers’ salaries got drastically reduced without a credible explanation from the management and without an apparent reason.

The management promised to pay a sum of 5.000 RSD (42 €) to each worker by the end of the day, and advised their employees to continue production tomorrow. Some of the workers claim that the company representatives indirectly threatened the strikers with lay-offs, addressing “the ones who don’t wish to work” to “go home”. A company representative allegedly told the workers that the management can “transfer their business to Mexico”, if need be. According to company regulations the workers who leave their posts before the end of their shift “sack themselves”, as our source explained.

Current events brought other causes for an underlying dissatisfaction to light. One of the problems is the way the management treats workers in manufacture. According to Mašina’s source, the workers lose particular bonuses when they take sick leave. The bonuses for presence are paid to workers who don’t miss a single workday.

If you take a day’s sick leave, you lose the bonus, which effectively translates into a paycheck with up to 10.000 RSD (85 €) less on it – our informant explains.

Although the management allegedly doesn’t prevent unionizing in the factory, the workers claim that they have been trying to form a union for the last two years, but failed due to pressures.

Aleksandar Todić, from the UGS Nezavisnost (United Branch Trade Union Independence), and a representative of the Austrian Pro-Ge union, Martina Schneller, visited the factory yesterday. The Pro-Ge Union of Production Workers represents a large number of Magna’s workers in Austria. The union representatives had a chance to talk both with the strikers and the management. According to Todić, they began unionizing in this factory, with roughly 150 workers enrolling the union so far.

The Magna company operates in Serbia since 2013. The factory in Odžaci engages around 2000 people in manufacturing car seat covers. The company is a beneficiary of significant subsidies from the state budget. In 2017 it extended its local manufacturing facilities, thus becoming the largest of the Magna’s businesses in Europe, according to a statement of the company’s CEO, Stefan Peters.

M.M., K.A.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

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