Every day at 7 a.m. Fildane, alongside a few other women, goes to work. A car takes them at 9 a.m. and sends them to where they will clean today. Until 5 p.m. they clean houses, apartments, building entrances and offices. They have a 30 minute break to eat lunch, which they usually bring with them from home. Sometimes they are offered food by the owners of the houses where they are working that day.
Their day ends at 5 p.m. after an “exhausting” day’s work that leaves them with “no body part that doesn’t hurt,” as Fildane says. The same car returns them to where it picked them up and then they receive their payment for the day. They arrive home by 7 p.m. and here the unpaid work begins.
As soon as she gets home, Fildane (the cleaners interviewed for this article have been granted pseudonyms) cooks for her three children, washes their clothes and shares the money she has earned amongst them to take to school the next day.
Fildane, who is in her early 40s, only completed high school. Three years ago she started working as a cleaner, finding jobs through ads that maintenance companies publish on social media.
Though the data is unofficial and there is limited up-to-date research, it is clear that a large number of women from different parts of Kosovo work as cleaners in homes, apartments and offices, as well as as babysitters. As this industry expands, it is still largely informal and unregulated. Most of these women are not legally recognized as employees.
Data on women’s employment does not provide a realistic picture of the situation. For example, there are no numbers about women working informally in child care, cleaning and maintenance because the vast majority of them work without contracts. This is in line with the trend of high informality in the private sector in Kosovo. It is estimated that over 50% of the over 290,000 workers in this sector work without contracts. Not providing employees with a contract saves employers money and removes any legal responsibility when it comes to how employees are treated.
But even some of the companies that hire women to work in the cleaning and maintenance industry are not registered businesses.
Meanwhile, the law does not address specific jobs in various industries, but is only concerned with the enforcement of contractual obligations. Therefore, for these women without contracts, the Labor Law is practically useless.
Violations of Labor Law
Without contracts, the duration of these women’s jobs varies from day to day. Their positions can be terminated by the employer at any time, without any advance notice and without giving employees room for complaint or an option to contest the process.
For each working day or month, women who work as cleaners or child caretakers are paid differently even though they do the same work. Payments range from 10 to 30 euros per day for cleaning and up to 300 euros per month for childcare.
Since the employees are not registered, their pension contributions are not paid. If this continues, most of them will only receive a basic pension of 100 euros when they retire, even though they have worked all their lives.
With a verbal agreement, these women often work with only one day off, while the only official holidays they can enjoy are those that the employer decides to offer.
They are not offered annual or medical leave if they have health problems, and there is often a lack of mutual understanding between them and the employer. Sometimes they are deprived of money and often their payments are delayed.
“Those who pay you on time are rarely found,” said Mina. “While those who do not pay you on time are large in number. They do not pay you for your work, for your sweat.”
“There was a company that in the end owed 20 euros to each of us,” Fildane said. “I said to him, you may not give me my money, but I will never forgive you, and we left. He didn’t give us the money because he didn’t want to and we couldn’t finish the work. He sent us to a place [to clean], and we did as much as we were able. Moreover, I had to receive medical injections for three days in a row after this occasion, and so I told him I could not work on those days. For these reasons he refused to pay us.”
They have no place to complain. The legal oversight mechanism for the implementation of Labor Law in Kosovo is the Labor Inspectorate, where employees can file complaints if the employment contract is violated. In cases of unfair termination of employment, the employee can appeal to the relevant municipal court. Both entities may impose fines on the employer if they conclude that the complaint was well-founded.
“If he was only a good person, he wouldn’t deny other’s sweat, right?” said Fildane. “What’s the reason we go and sweat there –– to receive money.”
According to data from the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (KAS), in the first quarter of 2021, the labor market works in favor of women who have tertiary education compared to those who have completed only high school. Only 18.5% of women who have just completed high school are employed compared with 49% of women who have tertiary education.
Many women working in this industry are now in their 40s and 50s, which means they were 18 two or three decades ago. This was a time when as a result of a difficult economic situation and long-standing gender-based exclusion, many women could not afford to complete more than primary or secondary school. Despite this, today most jobs in the market require a university degree.
Moreover, the Labor Law — which is supposed to prevent applicants from being discriminated against on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, marital status and other identity characteristics — is not enforced. These women say that age and having children often determines your ability to get a better job. Employers usually refuse to hire women of a certain age or those who are married because of the assumption that they have other obligations at home.
Fildane and her friends have also applied for other jobs, especially at markets, where a university degree is not required, but their age reduces their chances.
“Each of the companies that we contacted, asked us about our age,” Fildane said. “As soon as you tell them you’re 41 years old, if they see our pictures and we look younger they employ us, otherwise, they don’t. Immediately after you contact them [through social media], they ask you how old you are.”